It’s Elemental: Fire

“Fire, water and government know nothing of mercy.” Spanish proverb.   
FIRE – a mighty element with the power to create and destroy in equal measure. Hypnotizing, raging, soothing and magical, we can wonder at the dancing flame of a candle and fear the blaze of a forest fire. The sun is a huge ball of it and the centre of the earth is full of it. Most rituals incorporate it and every human being relies on it in one way or another. One thing we know for certain is that fire demands our respect!
 
FIRE AS A POWER SOURCE
The discovery of how to make fire is considered one of humankind’s most important advances. Its initial uses are obvious – warmth, light, cooking and protection. These days 80% of the worlds’ power relies on fire. Whether it’s people cooking on an open fire or a gas cooker. The burning of other fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal, are used to heat water, which creates steam to drive the turbines in the electricity power plants.
 
GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!
The sun is at the centre of our solar system and its energy supports nearly all life on earth. Solar power – it’s the buzz word in alternative technology and an intelligent response to the endless (and finite) burning of fossil fuels which contribute to global warming.
 
Solar power can run a house complete with all mod cons. It can heat water and even cook your food. The solar oven and the Slow Food movement are finally gaining popularity. Granada hosted the Solar Cooking International Conference in July 2006 (see Chispa June/July 2006) where an impressive list of speakers debated the advantages of solar cooking, especially in arid climates and parts of the world where other power sources are limited. The ‘Foundation Terra’ produces SOUL solar ovens, (Sun Oven Ultra Light) which are designed to be light, practical and efficient reaching temperatures of up to 130 degrees. They go for around 180 euros and you can guarantee that their power source is unlimited!
 
FIRE AS A HAZARD
Every year thousands of hectares of forest literally go up in smoke. Australia, Indonesia, Portugal and Spain are but a few of the countries that have lost precious forests to fire in recent years. Here in Andalusia we are at a staggering 81% risk of forest fires. And what’s even more shocking is that 90% are caused by humans deliberately. The environmental minister Cristina Narbona has urged people to denounce arsonists and has reiterated that this crime will be severely punished. In a bid to discourage deliberate burning of land, the Government introduced the Woodland Act, which prevents burnt land from being rezoned as building land for at least 30 years following a fire.
 
The average surface burnt over the last fifteen years is 85,652 hectares. 1994 was the worst year, losing 314,215 hectares and 1996 was the best with 30,573 hectares. Although fire is a traditional part of farming in Spain, it is vital that it is done in a careful and controlled way. With an average of 20,000 forest fires a year this is clearly not always happening.
 
Forest fires are expensive in terms of both vital trees lost and the thousands of euros spent to put them out. Helicopters are often the only chance of putting out a fire in the Sierra Nevada as thousands of hectares are unreachable by any other means. They cannot operate at night and are limited in the amount of water that they can hold.
 
Main Causes
– Human malice or stupidity!
– Depopulation of rural areas which leads to forests and farms being unmanaged and abandoned.
– Overly dense forests, with many small trees and stagnant growth.
– The eucalyptus tree is steeped in a highly flammable resin. A burning small eucalyptus tree is almost impossible to extinguish by any human method.
– Climate change is creating higher temperatures and more erratic rain patterns, causing arid land combined with water shortages.
– Difficult conditions in which to effectively extinguish fire.
 
Prevention
Keep fire breaks clean.
Efficient managing of the countryside and natural parks.
Controlled stubble burning.
Observe local regulations and requirements with regards to when and where to make a fire.
Only burn natural vegetation and untreated wood.
Keep fire fighting equipment within easy access.
Attend a fire until it has totally gone out – it only takes one spark!
Know that emergency number is 112.
 
Although fire is a traditional part of farming in Spain, it is vital that it is done in a careful and controlled way. With an average of 20,000 forest fires a year this is clearly not always happening, and there is a growing movement to look at alternatives such as shredding organic waste that can then be mulched back in to the land.

 
Keep land clean either by surface ploughing, not too deep or too often to avoid killing microorganisms or by brush cutting or having the land grazed.
 
Owners of forestry land must have a PPI (Fire Prevention Plan) approved by the Environment Dept. of their province.
 
Have a great summer – let’s get out the solar ovens and put the bar-b-q’s away! Keep it fire free!
 
www.incendiosforestales.org – more info about forest fires.
www.teera.org – more info about solar ovens.
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