Wildfire – the most feared hazard of rural life

Living in rural Mallorca is wonderful, but country life has its hazards. And the most terrifying of these is wildfire. During the island’s long hot summers these fires occur far more often than they should, causing serious environmental damage and endangering the lives of firefighters as well as the people, animals, and property in their path. Last year there were more than 80 such fires on Mallorca – some started deliberately.

Airborne aid

A few years ago we had first-hand experience of the frightening unpredictability of fire, when a blaze ripped through our valley. A neighbour (a local, who must have known about the illegality of bonfires in the summer) had been burning some garden rubbish, and believed the fire was extinguished when he left it. However, the fire had travelled through the roots of wild olive and re-ignited, spreading quickly onto our land.

It was a very dramatic day, with a helicopter scooping up water from neighbouring swimming pools and water tanks to dowse the erratic flames (fortunately not too close to the house). We were extremely grateful – and in awe of – the airborne and ground firefighters who extinguished the blaze.

But the fire in our valley was but a spark compared to the one that’s devastated almost 2,000 hectares of forested mountain terrain on Mallorca – the worst wildfire here for some two decades. The fire broke out last Friday at around lunchtime (the result of human carelessness) and, only today, has it been reported as being finally under control.

Help from the mainland

It affected three municipalities in the southwest of the island – Andratx, Estellencs, and Calvia – and more than 700 people had to evacuate their homes because they were at risk. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from the Spanish mainland to assist the teams here, along with members of the military emergency unit, UME. Seaside holidaymakers – not in any danger from the blaze – watched in amazement from beaches in some of the southwest resorts, as firefighting planes and helicopters scooped water from the Mediterranean in front of them.

Thousands of amateur photos must have been captured and emailed by holidaymakers, but here’s one of a number taken over the past few days by Warwick Upton, a respected professional photographer on Mallorca.  www.warwickupton-photography.co.uk

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

And for a chilling account of how it feels to be so close to a raging wildfire, here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend and fellow blogger/journalist Vicki McLeod.


A Burning Issue

October 16th has been ringed on our calendar for some months, and The Boss was longing for the date. It’s not a birthday, anniversary or another of those occasions that requires a frantic search in local shops for something resembling a decent greetings card. This was the first date on which we country dwellers in Mallorca could legally have a bonfire – the risk of wildfires deemed to have passed once an autumn storm or two have dampened things down.


The last time we were able to have a bit of a blaze was in spring, so the pile of garden waste had grown into a mini-mountain. The Boss had covered it with a tarpaulin at the first sign of rain, to keep it as dry as possible for The Big Burn.

He wasn’t the only one itching to set a match to a summer’s worth of rubbish. As I was driving to Palma for an appointment yesterday, the countryside en route looked like the venue for a smoke signalling convention, and the air was heavy with the autumnal aroma of burning.

Man With the Match

It’s a man-thing

I’m not being sexist when I say that I think that this desire to light a bonfire – and keep it under control, of course – is probably a bit of a man-thing. For The Boss, it clearly beats more mundane tasks like checking the bank statement or topping up the solar power batteries with distilled water. There’s nothing like the risk of singeing the hairs on your arms or accidentally setting fire to your jeans (without realising) to add a spark of adventure to your day. As The Boss can confirm.

Jan Edwards Copyright 2012