The Empordà forest fires showcase – Spain

22 July  2012 / Spain

L’Alt Empordà is located in the Northeast zone of Catalonia. It is a coastal region and has a border with France. Well known for the force of the North wind called “Tramuntana”, it is an area with a lot of tourist attraction. On July 22, 2012, a very strong “Tramuntana” was blowing and the forestry fire risk forecast was very high. The first focus of the fire was detected in El Pertús. in a matter of minutes the fire was unstoppable. The strong gusts of wind (more than 90 km / h) made the fire advance to almost 6 km / h, faster than a person walking.

The CCA was installed in Figueres (Alt Empordà), while the fire continued to burn south through the corridors formed by the AP-7 motorway and the AVE (high-speed train) line. Quickly it was decided to ask for help from other operatives: firefighters from France, Valencia, Andorra and also the UME (Unit of the Spanish army). In the direction that the incendiary was taking are 17 municipalities, but with many dispersed population centers. More than 600 vulnerable elements were included in the area and during the fire almost 200,000 tourists were in the area. Mainly self-protection measures were decreed.

Meanwhile, another focus of the fire was burning in the mountainous area that separates the region of France, causing panic scenes among the drivers blocked in the area’s roads … the strong wind kept fighting the forces trying to extinguish the fire, and the forecast for the next day worsened: Strong gusts of wind were going to continue whipping the area, changing direction and spreading the fire in an East and Southeast direction.

Roads throughout the area were cut to traffic to facilitate the movement of emergency vehicles, 2 campsites in the area and several rural tourism houses were evacuated, sports halls were enabled to accommodate people and the Red Cross and Civil Protection provided goods. Finally, the fire could be controlled 3 days after it started.

4 people died, 7 were severely injured and more than 13000 ha were affected, with hundreds of milions of costs estimated (infrastructure, tourism, cultural heritage, etc). Almost 5000 families were affected by power outage and / or landlines failure.
€ 231 losses were estimated by Generalitat de Catalunya Fire Dpt., € 1.3 M losses by local authorities, € 1 M losses by Alt Empordà Hoteliers Association and € 30000 losses by Tourims Consortium of Salines Bassagoda (BTT, cultural heritage and trails).

Available data and expected uses of data 

The information available is the collection by the different affected municipalities via direct assessment (reports of damage to urban material, cycling and hiking trails, private properties, etc.), information collected by Bombers de la Generalitat in relation to ha affected by fire, transport infrastructure and others, as well as indirect valuations from tourism chambers and cultural patrons of the region. The case study may be valid to assess the impact on critical infrastructure, on intangible assets that affect the tourism business and on cultural and landscape heritage.

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