Friday, July 26, 2013

MALLORCA TODAY - Andratx fire contained

A major fire in the Sa Coma area of Andratx broke out around one o'clock this afternoon. A hundred firefighters are in attendance along with firefighting planes and helicopters. Reinforcements have had to be brought from Valencia and Zaragoza as well as from Ibiza and Menorca. Twenty homes have been evacuated and some roads have been closed.

Update (20.15): Some 800 hectares have been affected by the fire. Over 200 firefighters are now involved. Precautionary evacuations are taking place near to s'Arracó. The wind has been making control of the fire more difficult. The operation against the fire will go on through the night, and there may have to be more evacuations, though no property has thus far been directly affected.

The fire sweeping across such a large area could make this one of the most damaging fires that Mallorca or the Balearics have experienced. If 800 hectares is a true estimate, it is a considerably larger area than the fire in Cala Llonga in Ibiza in September 2011 when 115 hectares were actually claimed by the fire but during which around a thousand people had to be evacuated. The current fire is placed at Level Two, one notch below the most serious.

Update (21.15): President José Ramón Bauzá has said that the fire looks bad and that it currently isn't under control. But he has called for calm. Meanwhile, volunteers from Civil Protection units from across Mallorca have been mobilised to assist.

More on the history of fires. Another fire on Ibiza in May 2011 was the second largest fire in the Balearics. It claimed 1,500 hectares. The largest fire recorded on Mallorca or anywhere on the Balearic Islands was that of August 1992, when just under 2,000 hectares were affected in the Artà mountains.

Update (22.15): The cause of the fire would appear to have been someone who was negligently burning some stubble. The man has been interrogated by the Guardia Civil who have charged him, but he hasn't been taken into custody. The fire is still not under control.

Temperatures in Mallorca today have typically been around 36 degrees. There has been little rain for several weeks and the island has been experiencing a heatwave for well over a week. Today, the winds from the south have also been quite strong. A good day for doing some burning of stubble then. Incredible.

Update (00.15): Some 60 firefighters will work through the night. There has been some further precautionary evacuation in s'Arracó.

Update (7.30 Saturday): Firefighting planes back in action. Fires appear to be more confined, so the worst of the situation is probably over even if the fires are not completely under control. People evacuated from their homes were put up by hotels or in the sports centre in Andratx.

Update (11.00 Saturday): The fires are still not under control. Some 250 operatives, along with the water bombers, are now engaged in trying to get control. There are 13 different air craft in all involved in the incident. The firefighting planes are picking up water by Peguera, where an exclusion zone in the sea has been created to stop boats or swimmers venturing out too far. The area affected is now said to be as much as 1,000 hectares.

Update (16.45 Saturday): The fires remain active. It is now being said that 1,600 hectares have been affected, which makes the Andratx incident Mallorca's second worst since records were kept. As the fires are still active, it could yet become the worst, exceeding the 1,960 hectares lost above Betlem in the Artà mountains in 1992. Over 50 more operatives have been brought in from Valencia.

Update (19.15 Saturday): Much of the fire appears to now have been extinguished, but in the direction of Estellencs there is still firefighting from the air and from land crews.

Update (7.30 Sunday): Some precautionary evacuation going towards Estellencs last night. Firefighters kept up their efforts overnight, and it is anticipated that the fires will be completely extinguished today, or if not extinguished then stabilised. More assistance has, in the meantime, been brought in from the mainland. The scale of the fire makes it the worst in Spain so far this year, though it is nothing on the scale of very much serious fires, such as in Valencia, last summer.

Update (12.30 Sunday): The worst may be over in the area where the fire started, but it has swept towards Estellencs. Some 700 people were evacuated there, and there are now well over 300 firefighters trying to get a grip. Demands for boats to keep out of the water, especially around Peguera, are repeatedly being made, as they are hampering planes picking up water.

Update (13.30 Sunday): Now being said that 1,800 hectares have been affected, so the current incident is edging closer to being Mallorca's worst ever fire. President Bauzá has said that the fire is still out of control as it moves northward along the Tramuntana. A safety zone in the sea has been increased significantly to include off Playa de Palma in order to allow planes to collect water unimpeded. Bauzá is in contact with national prime minister Rajoy and the ministers for the environment, defence and interior. All resources needed are being promised by Madrid.

Update (17.15 Sunday): Being reported that 2,000 hectares have been destroyed, which would make this the worst fire experienced on Mallorca since accurate records were kept. The fire still rages and is getting closer to Estellencs itself. Tourists and workers at the Galatzó finca have needed to be evacuated. Contradictory notices suggesting that the situation has improved near to Estellencs but that the situation remains "complicated", while the emergency service has actually started to issue advice if the fire gets near to houses. There are also occasional bursts of flames in the areas where the fire originated.

Update (19.30 Sunday): Being said that this is the most difficult fire there has been to tackle, the result of three things - the weather (winds and heat), mountain geography and, worryingly, available fuel.

Winds are expected to ease soon. The main focus of efforts is Estellencs and Galatzó. It is not thought that Puigpunyent will be affected. There have not been evacuations there or in Banyalbufar. 28 air craft of different types and around 400 operatives are now involved in tackling the fire.

Questions now being asked. Should there have been a stronger response in the early stages of the fire, which has now been raging for over 48 hours, even if its focus has shifted? Answers, and good ones, are going to be demanded of the regional government.

Update (22.45 Sunday): 95 people evacuated from the area between Estellencs and Galatzó as a precautionary measure tonight. This area is where the main firefighting efforts are continuing. Elsewhere, the situation between Andratx and La Trapa is said to be stable and the situations in Sant Elm and Andratx are totally under control. Total number of people evacuated at present is 826. Efforts are being made to also evacuate animals at Galatzó. The government says that the affected area is no more than 1800 hectares, despite earlier reports suggesting that it was over 2000, but admits that a clear idea is not possible at this stage.

(Update midnight Sunday): No more of any note being reported other than the fact that a member of the UME military fire-protection unit has been taken to hospital suffering from dehydration. Surprising if he is the only one.

Update (8.00 Monday): Firefighting planes at work again from around 7am. 250 operatives had been working through the night. The wind picked up earlier and the fire started to threaten the Galatzó finca once again.
Emergency service tweeting that there is no intention at present to evacuate animals, but the protocol is in place if this proves necessary. Also saying that there is no intention to evacuate in Puigpunyent or Galilea. The flames are apparently some distance away even if there is a great deal of smoke.

Update (12.45 Monday): Efforts centred still on Galatzó and the outskirts of Estellencs, though the emergency service says that residents from Estellencs should be able to return soon. No evacuation of animals from Galatzó has been considered necessary so far. Winds are thought to be favourable at present. 112 also says that parts of Andratx remain "hot spots" but that things are under control. More air reinforcement arriving. Smell of smoke widespread, right across Calvia.

Update (16.45 Monday): Residents of Estellencs are being allowed to go back to their homes. Electricity has been restored and there is no longer a risk. The situation in Galatzó has also improved, smoke clearing and risk receding. It would appear that an end to an incident that started over 72 hours ago is in sight.

Update (18.15 Monday): 112 saying that 80% of the fire is said to now be "stabilised". Small outbreaks of fire can be expected over the next days, which is not untypical with incidents such as this one. Generally, the situation can be said to be under control even if not all fires are out yet.

Update (20.00 Monday): The emergency services are confident that full control will be achieved tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. The alarm is mostly over. Some of the mainland air reinforcements have returned.  

Update (8.30 Tuesday): The fire has been contained. Full stabilisation is hoped to be achieved today though putting the fire out completely may take a few days yet. As the situation has improved, this is the last of these updates.
Further reporting on this blog:
Barbecue coals the cause of the Andratx fire

Photo of night scene from Pau Verd here:

Videos on YouTube:
Photo gallery from Diario de Mallorca:
Photo of devastation at Sa Gramola, from the 112 Emergency Services Twitter feed.

More photos from Diario de Mallorca showing the devastation:

One of the most heartbreaking of all the photos of the devastation. This is of the La Trapa finca, owned by the ecologists GOB and which was recovered after the fire in 1994. All that effort. Gone. Photo thanks to GOB's Facebook:

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