Local Daily News 1st August

The high temperatures and the accumulated dry matter turn the mountains into a powder keg

Just an oversight or a small gesture could be the beginning of a war against fire. The high temperatures that are being registered in the month of July, with humidity and wind, as well as the accumulation of vegetation, especially dry, that there is in the mountains of the province turns them into a kind of tinderbox that could light up at any time. A situation that keeps the parties involved, both in prevention and fire extinction, on alert, who strive to monitor the areas with the greatest risk to prevent thousands of hectares from burning under the flames.

Is there a risk in the province of a major fire like the ones that plague other areas of Spain? Experts point out that there is a risk, although like every summer. Because as they explain “no campaign can be compared with another” because each one has its own particular  characteristics. Daniel Morcilo, forest firefighter in the province and SPPLB union delegate, explained that “we are concerned about the situation because what is happening in summer is that they are getting longer and longer and with extreme weather.”

This year, the heat wave that is hitting all the territories these days is a perfect seasoning for it, but the mountains also have a large amount of accumulated dry matter, which in emergency “slang” is known as fuel. Among the reasons, the rains of the past months of April and May. With more water, the vegetation and trees grow and, with the heat, they dry out. But it’s not the only motive.

The abandonment of rural areas also plays its role in fire risk areas. The president of Asaja-Jóvenes Agicultores, José Vicente Andreu, warned about this a few days ago in an article in this newspaper in which he stated precisely that the cultivation areas had decreased, giving way to forest land that is not worked, which, together with the change climate, made everything “a bomb about to explode”. And this is corroborated by other parties involved in tackling fires. Working the land meant that there were “zones of fortune”, or what is the same, land where the fire could be stopped or controlled. “Rural abandonment and the lack of farms means that there are more extensions exposed to fires” in addition to “difficult access to others,” Morcilo said. All of this “is fuel ready to burn fast” and can lead to “more aggressive fires”.

In this sense, the president of ACIF (Association against Forest Fires) of Alcoy, Jordi Gutiérrez, explained precisely that in the mountains of the province this situation of accumulation of circumstances is taking place: “the weather, the abandonment of agriculture and that there is no type of forest exploitation, it means that more and more fuel is earned”; that is, that dry vegetation. A situation that according to him he indicated “is similar to that of the rest of the country.” In the case of the area of ​​Alcoy and its surroundings, “the current continuity of the vegetation could cause a fire that starts in Biar to end up in Agres”.

For his part, Carlos Arribas, from Ecologists in Action, indicated that “the situation is serious. With these temperatures and the dryness, the mountains are a tinderbox.” Something that the professor of Ecology at the UA, Jaime Baeza, considers “somewhat extreme” although the current situation “is not the best” because the weather is “a serious problem”. The expert added that “95% of fires are due to human causes”, due to carelessness or lack of attention and “by not perceiving the risk”. He thus added that the current weather conditions “make the situation explosive.” And he claimed that “when it is said that the mount is dirty, in reality it is not like that” but that “it has to be as it should be” by its nature.

In the province, there are areas with higher risk potential. Among them, the danger hangs over the natural park of the Font Roja, the Sierra de Mariola, the Maigmó or the Guardamar pine forest, according to the same sources. But also in the Torre de les Maçanes or Relleu where there is a large forest mass. Thus, the coastal areas, where Serra Gelada is located in Benidorm or the Montgó area in the Marina Alta, are also at risk.

Among the prevention measures would be to create “more firewalls and more security zones”, such as expanding the cleaning of the sides of the roads. But also “the main thing is to be able to provide a very fast service” so that the fire does not become large in a short time, said the forest firefighter.

Fighting fires is the job of the firefighters, both those of the Alicante Provincial Consortium or those of the city of Alicante, as well as the foresters that the Valencian Society of Comprehensive Emergency Management Service (SGISE), dependent on the Consell, has deployed in the province. They are also joined by groups of volunteers such as the Association Against Forest Fires (ACIF) with various headquarters such as Alcoy.

Everyone agrees: Arriving early when a fire breaks out is key to trying to prevent it from spreading and becoming a major fire. Hence, the material and human means are important to achieve this point, but also the control and extinction of the fire. Thus, the aerial means in the province are two helicopters from the Firefighters Consortium, one that is also used for rescues, Alpha 01, and that participates in forest fires because it carries a load of water; and another, from July 1 to September 30, for fire detection, coordination, direction and extinction, according to sources from the entity. They are joined by two helicopters from the Generalitat, one of them based in Mutxamel, where there are also two planes for this task. Five Consortium drones join the fleet.

Thus, there are Forest Firefighters Units throughout the province. According to official sources there are 12 of them that have 11 fire trucks. As for firefighters of the Consortium, in the 8 parks, 5 sub-parks and checkpoints in summer there are 138 troops per day. About 700 form this organisation in the province. Thus, they work with 14 fire trucks loaded with water with a heavy feeder pump; two light mother bombs; 8 heavy forestry bombs; three light forestry pumps; and 28 UMJ, vehicles used to get to the fire. This entity is the first to arrive and is the one who coordinates the field work. In addition, ACIF collaborates both in the prevention and in the extinction of fires. For the former, only the one in Alcoy has 35 volunteers; 40 for the second task. In addition, 14 cameras monitor the peaks of the region and volunteers on horseback tour the mountains on weekends.

But are they enough? Some sources indicated that with these available means, the province could face a large forest fire. Although they argued that a fire of this type can never be foreseen because it is subject to multiple factors. Thus they stressed that, if necessary, support comes from firefighters from other provinces or communities; in the case of being very extreme, the EMU also intervenes.

Thus, forest firefighters have been on the table for a long time with demands that point to the need to improve the means and conditions of the group and, above all, reorganise schedules and shifts and, therefore, expand the workforce, so that the surveillance work and extinction is optimally covered 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. This was explained by the SPPLB delegate who indicated that “the units are depleted.” According to his data, there are 13 Forest Firefighters units in the province (11 annually and two, those of Guardamar and Relleu, which work for six months). One of the demands that the union has been making for years is that “they be all annual” and that the one in Guardamar “be provided with a fire engine” because of the risk area in which it is located.

As for the templates, Morcilo pointed out that right now there are between 80 and 85 employees in this group, that “some days there are much fewer”, with a two-shift system that “has become obsolete” and that it is not enough to serve everyone the days of the year. For this reason, they ask for a third turn, a claim at the regional level made to the Consell that for the province would mean “an increase in troops by 95 more”.

The benefits would be to be able to react faster but also “more relays” that would mean that “when a fire breaks out there would always be ‘fresh’ people and rest shifts would be respected”. And he emphasised the need to take into account the age of the troops: “It is a concern because you cannot have troops over 60 years of age in the front line.” The forest firefighter added that the “lack of components in the units is due to the lack of political foresight and that of the company that has generated an inability to contract that we hope will be resolved soon” and “due to the strike we are on due to the lack job stability of 1/3 of the workforce”.

Venues and neighbours demand a greater police presence in the neighbourhoods and denounce an increase in night-time violence

The nightlife that usually takes place in the streets of the Barrio de Alicante has always been a conflict for young people, venues and neighbours. However, residents and owners of the premises assure that there is an increase in crime after the confinement that endangers businesses and coexistence in the area.

After the stoppage due to the pandemic, the nightlife in the streets that extend beyond the Méndez Núñez boulevard has regained strength, but those who live it every night denounce that the situation has gotten out of control, for which they demand greater prevention, awareness and police presence.

For Mariano Ballester, a resident of the neighbourhood, what is happening lately is “a real shame.” He affirms that images of alcohol poisoning on the doors of their houses are common and, although he acknowledges that “we have all had fun in our youth” he warns that “now we are talking about 12-year-old boys and girls, absolutely disoriented, falling to the ground or directly as if they were dead”.

A problem that seems to be far from being solved: “Before the pandemic, the Police parked their cars at the entrances to Parque de la Ereta” which dissuaded many young people from drinking. Now, although the residents themselves “patrol” the area trying to change the minds of those who come with the intention of getting drunk, they maintain that the police presence has decreased.

On some occasions, according to the neighbours, the young people have even come to confront them, throwing small bottles against their facades and balconies. So they demand “that the Police go up to the highest streets of the neighbourhood” and not stay “only in the squares where the discos are.”

It is precisely in this area, in the one made up of the Quijano and Carmen squares, where neighbours and hoteliers assure that a wide escalation of violence is taking place. Last week, a fight between young people resulted in two stab wounds, who needed medical attention due to cuts caused by a knife.

They maintain that the fights are increasingly violent and habitual, even using glass bottles or small weapons such as brass knuckles or small knives, which causes situations of authentic chaos with hundreds of young people crowding in the aforementioned squares in Alicante.

About 200 people demand to "save" the Doña Sinforosa park from the skyscraper project and announce new protests

Some two hundred people have attended this Sunday afternoon the PSOE call, Los Verdes and Sueña Torrevieja and two non-attached councillors, to ask the Torrevieja City Council that the project of the two skyscrapers of the Baraka Group of 26 stories respect one of the most emblematic spaces of the city since the beginning of the 20th century, next to the Acequión beach. The protest has been preceded by a collection of signatures that has gathered some 2,000 signatures in recent weeks.

The conveners, who have had the assistance of residents of the area who are going to lose their views of the sea, have anticipated, among harsh criticism of the management of the absolute majority of the PP in the City Council, they have assured that new mobilizations will be proposed. The concentration has given voice to many of those present outside the political representatives to express their rejection of the project. The protest has also been attended by some of the Torrevejenses who managed with their mobilisation to knock down an urban project that was raised 30 years ago on the plot of the green zone itself.

Andrés Navarro, Israel Muñoz and Pablo Samper – spokespersons for the convening parties – have remarked, above all, that the urbanisation project appropriates, in their opinion, the public space of about ten thousand square metres to guarantee views to the owners of the future apartments, removing the large trees.

Mayor Eduardo Dolón (PP) has preferred to avoid the controversy in the height of the tourist season. He has been reiterating for months that the Baraka Group project respects and improves this public space. Although the detailed study approved by the plenary session of the Popular Party in the last plenary session of 2021 does not provide details of how the green area will be acted on, beyond the virtual recreations of the park.

The opposition considers that this provision of services to the entire plot – sidewalks, collectors, lighting, rainwater or sanitation – is the company’s argument for “appropriating” the park project as a direct passage from the owners of the future flats of luxury to the port beach -not authorised for bathing-, eliminating vegetation of eucalyptus and pine trees, which in some cases is centuries old.

The approval of the two towers implies the urbanisation of the block in which they will be integrated into the land located between the Acequión salt channel, Gregorio Marañón avenue, the beach and Doña Sinforosa street. That is to say, the company is “forced” to redevelop the park -also part of the avenue as semi-pedestrian, on its two sides, and the adjacent street that leads to the beach as pedestrian-. The latter also remains “integrated” in the space of the towers.

In the opinion of the conveners on the ground, there will be a service esplanade for the new residents because the perimeter wall of the park is removed. The company’s technicians insist that the buildings must have a “visual” view of the beach: that the trees, some of the largest in Torrevieja with a height equivalent to six stories, cannot cover the views of the bay.

The opposition has also recalled that the ground floor and the mezzanine of the two buildings will be devoted to tertiary use and they believe that it can become a commercial and hotel offer of the entity of a large area in the centre of Torrevieja, when the commercial offer and open in recent years and the one planned in the short term has already had a great impact on small businesses and the local hotel industry.

The PP maintains that after the first controversy over the urban proposal presented at the end of 2020, the company was required to conserve the monumental trees with a new detailed study – the City Council has not fully approved that catalogue of trees made in the previous municipal mandate-, while some advisers to the mayor have campaigned on social networks recalling the multimillion-dollar investment that the company will make to lift the promotion. This new study does mention the trees but does not specify which ones it will conserve or not.

Dolón emphasises that the Generalitat has validated the municipal strategic environmental assessment procedure in its sectoral reports. The towers must contemplate 30% of their residential volume to a hotel -condition that allowed to validate the typological freedom in height in 2010-. The promoter makes no mention of this offer, which it sells almost exclusively as an investment opportunity in Torrevieja, although the mayor assured that if the company does not meet that percentage, the towers will not rise.

Against the approval of the detailed study, allegations were presented – all rejected – by the PSOE, Los Verdes, and above all, by Amigos de los Humedales del Sur de Alicante, who also supported the call for this Sunday, in which they have also been present IU members.

The protest has focused on defending the romantic garden and not so much against the skyscrapers, for which the promoter group requested a licence shortly after the full approval and which has not yet been obtained. The skyscrapers are covered by a specific modification of the PGOU of typological freedom in height and hotel use approved in 2010 by the PP with the approval of the Generalitat, and the processing of the plan itself began to be promoted, as a regulated procedure, during the previous minority left-wing government -in which the three convening parties of this Sunday’s protest were present-. The Ministry of Ecological Transition, for this project and the rest of the towers planned in the city by the sea endorsed in typological freedom, has reported against it. And in this case and in the neighbouring Metrovacesa project, it has already filed a contentious-administrative lawsuit -not a complaint-. A legal action that will not prevent the implementation of the project if the City Council grants the licence. impact if the Ministry does not request and obtain precautionary measures from the court.

What the company has done is transform the plot where it will be located into a spectacular space for promoting the skyscrapers themselves with a huge removable stand, ponds and gardens, among other elements. And he has hired private security. The government team -Dolón is the councillor for Urbanism-, continues without clarifying if the company has requested a responsible statement and an opening licence for this promotional activity. The opposition has avoided concentrating on the rejection of the towers and focusing its discourse on the conservation of green space as generations of Torrevejenses have known it, along with the Acequión canal.

Alicante halves the number of deaths on the road compared to 2019

Alicante has halved its deaths on the roads so far this year compared to 2019. According to the latest report from the National Road Safety Observatory of the DGT, there are 12 people who have lost their lives on interurban roads in the province in the first seven months of the year, half as much as in the last year before the pandemic, when 24 people died.

The data also shows a continuity in the positive evolution of the province in this sense. Last year, the fatal accidents left 18 dead on the roads of the province up to the end of July. The report does not compare the data with that of 2020, in which Alicante was the third province with the most deaths throughout the year, since the figures for that year cannot be compared due to the two months of confinement and low mobility. It should also be noted that this report from the Road Safety Observatory measures only accidents on interurban roads. That is to say, it does not take into account the accidents or the deceased within the streets and avenues of the cities.

The reduction in deaths with the return of normality to the roads is positive, especially when these data are compared with that of the set of Spanish provinces, since the number of deaths on the roads at the national level has increased. Alicante is the second province that has reduced its total number of deaths the most compared to the data from three years ago, only behind Madrid, which has registered 13 fewer deaths.

In the total of fatal accidents, Alicante is also the second province that has reduced them the most compared to those of 2019. The province has registered 12 accidents in which someone has lost their life, compared to the 22 that occurred three years ago . Madrid is, also in this case, the only one with better figures than Alicante, registering 14 fewer claims in the same period of time.

The 12 deaths in traffic accidents place Alicante as the 19th province with the most nationwide in the first seven months of the year, when it is the fifth with the largest population in the territory. Ahead are multiple provinces smaller than Alicante, including Castellón.

And it is that at the regional level, the number of people who have lost their lives in accidents has increased by 10.9%, as opposed to the data from Alicante. So far this year, 51 people have lost their lives on the interurban roads of the Valencian Community, while three years ago the number of deaths on the same dates was 46.

Castellón is the province that leads this increase, after increasing its deaths on highways and motorways by 225% in the last three years. 13 people have lost their lives in traffic accidents in the northernmost province of the Community, while in 2019 only 4 had lost their lives in the same period. The province of Valencia also registered a notable increase, with an increase of 44.4% in its deaths on the road. There are 26 people who have perished on the interurban roads of said province between January 1 and July 27, the date of the last update of the DGT report, for the 18 who lost it in the same period of time in 2019 .

At the national level, the number of deaths also increases compared to 2019. Of the 605 people who lost their lives on the road in the first seven months of 2019, it has increased to 640 this year, 5.8% more. The increase is even more notable when compared to last year’s data, in which, at this time, 549 people had lost their lives throughout Spain.

Cuenca, Navarra and Tarragona, in addition to Castellón, are the provinces that lead the increase in deaths in accidents so far this year, with 11, 10 and 9 more, respectively, than those registered three years ago. At the opposite pole, after Madrid and Alicante, are Pontevedra and Lleida, where there have been 12 and 10 fewer accidents so far in 2022 than in the last year before the pandemic.

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