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Spanish Secrets: Good News Is No News

A lethal combination of parched undergrowth and high winds has resulted in uncontrollable fires raging across Galicia, as Craig Briggs reports. Last Friday there were 111 fires, 84 of which were said to be out of control.

For the second time in less than four years our home region of Galicia, in northwest Spain, has featured in world news. Unfortunately, when it comes to international news bulletins - “Good news is no news”.

The last time Galicia was mentioned in a global context was in November 2002. We’d only lived here for six months and didn’t really appreciate the enormity of the disaster.

An aging and poorly maintained oil tanker, sailing under a flag of convenience, hit the headlines – Prestige.

During a November storm, whilst sailing through Spanish national waters, one of the ship's twelve holding tanks burst. A catalogue of inter-European governmental squabbles ensued. Whilst Spain, Portugal and France bickered over how best to handle this impending disaster, the ailing ship split in two and sank off the coast of Galicia.

Fuel-oil haemorrhaged from the sunken vessel devastating local marine wildlife and coating the coast in thick black crude. The disaster was equal to, if not worse than, the Exxon Valdez spillage in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989.

After months of mainly voluntary efforts, the coastline and beaches were cleaned, to such an extent that many areas surpassed their pre-disaster state of cleanliness.

Last week's news-worthy events were on a similar scale, but on this occasion no amount of volunteers can repair the devastation.

Large swathes of countryside have been reduced to ashes. Forest fires have ravaged areas of the region leaving a trail of devastation in their path. On Friday night there were 111 reported fires, 84 of which were classified as out of control.

At this time of year it’s usually hot and dry and we are always at risk of forest fires, but unusually for this time of year we’ve had some powerful winds. A lethal combination of parched undergrowth and high winds has resulted in uncontrollable conflagrations rampaging unchecked across the countryside.

The city of Ourense, less than 40km from our home, was on high alert over the weekend. Villages in some of its outlying areas had to be evacuated until fire crew’s finally brought the flames under control at 2 am. Needless to say other villages closer to the coast were not as lucky.

Never one to miss a photo opportunity the Prime Minister, Jose Zapatero took time off from his holiday in Lanzarote to visit a fire co-ordination control centre, before flying back the following day.
The word zapatero means shoemaker. If my grandfather were still alive, I’m sure that’s exactly what he’d have made of his visit – Cobblers!

Thankfully for us we’ve seen very few fires in our immediate area. Those we’ve had have been extinguished quickly.

The little aerodrome close to our house has been very busy. It’s home to three single-seat fire-fighting planes and a helicopter. Everyday the small squadron fly back and forth to the river Sil, collecting water and returning to drop their precious load. Out and back, out and back, a relentless effort to save the countryside.

Let’s hope Galicia features in the news headlines it will be for something more positive – third time lucky perhaps?

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Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs


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