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Spanish Secrets: Fire Flyers

"...the first of the planes circles the menacing cloud. The pilot is looking for the perfect angle of attack. It banks sharply to the left before diving steeply and disappearing into the thick black smoke...'' Craig Briggs brings a dramatic account of the aerial warfare against the fires which rage through the forests and countryside of Green Spain.

Floating on a gentle breeze is the unmistakable odour of a brush fire. Rising from the comfort of my Georgia-style moulded chair, I slowly scan the horizon.

In the distance a diluted grey cloud hangs in the air. As my vision lowers, this distorted grey funnel narrows, intensifying in shade. I stand motionless staring at this potentially devastating sight. After a short time the base of the funnel expands laterally, thickening into a charcoal-black cloud.

Within minutes of this odorous discovery, small particles of ash drifting on the warm zephyr, begin falling like grey snowflakes. The charred wood aroma strengthens filling me with a sense of uneasiness.

This expanding inferno is five or six kilometres away; it poses very little, if any, threat to us, although someone else might not be as fortunate.

Several minutes pass before I hear the distant murmur of our aerial saviours. The familiar deep throbbing-drone from a single-seat, water-carrying aircraft, echoes in the distance. As it flies overhead, every ignition stroke of its low revving engine is audible. A short narrow vapour trail leaks from its life saving cargo as it heads towards the expanding smoke cloud.

As its engine noise fades, a second aircraft appears on the horizon, following a similar flight-path to the first. These two are quickly followed by the unmistakable and deafeningly powerful whirring of a jet-propelled helicopter. Slung beneath its fuselage, like a giant water filled balloon, is its main weapon of fire control.

As the awkward looking helicopter powers through the sky above, the first of the planes circles the menacing cloud. The pilot is looking for the perfect angle of attack.

It banks sharply to the left before diving steeply and disappearing into the thick black smoke. Breathlessly I wait. Having delivered its life-saving payload, it reappears like a mechanical phoenix, climbing sharply through the cloud of smoke and steam.

For this pilot there’s no victory roll, simply a return trip to the river for more life saving water. Time, and time again they return until victory is theirs and the flames are extinguished.

Today there’s no respite, further to the west another tell-tale grey funnel has appeared. At dusk, these life saving aviators are grounded. The responsibility for holding back these advancing infernos now rests with the foot soldiers, a small band of mainly part-time firemen.

At night, tall forest trees are silhouetted against the flickering, sunburst glow of intimidating blazes.

Excluding arson, most fires in the area are started carelessly, by the ignorance of visitors to this beautiful region of Green Spain. The extreme heat of the mid-day sun, can transform the most innocuous piece of discarded litter, into a dangerous incendiary.

This sometimes innocent ignorance, contrasts sharply to the mindless morons who casually flick glowing cigarette tabs from their moving vehicles. These ignorant fools flee the scene of their crime, blissfully unaware of their dangerous actions.

Every year thousands of hectares of Nature's patchwork-green eiderdown is reduced to a stark blackened landscape, seemingly devoid of life. Within 12 months, this destruction is hardly recognisable on the smaller affected areas. Mother Nature weaves her magical spell, rejuvenating these decimated landscapes with new flora. Given time, areas subjected to the most serious conflagrations, will once again be restored to lush meadows and vibrant woodlands.

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