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What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

The huge forest fire that's currently raging in Málaga province will not be the last one this summer in Spain. Here's some useful advice on how to prevent 'incendios' and what you should do if you see a blaze.

What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain
Photo: Mathieu Lewis-Rolland / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Ninety-five percent of forest fires in Spain are caused by human activities, according to Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture. 

A quarter are due to accidents and negligence, but more than half of all those that occur each year are caused intentionally.

Forest fires (incendios forestales in Spanish) are a serious ecological, social and economic problem.

Each year in Spain, an average of 15,647 fires are reported, even though some of these are small and burn less than one hectare, they still cause significant damage. In the last half a century, seven million hectares across Spain have been burned due to forest fires. 

Although all regions in Spain can be affected by forest fires, they occur more frequently in Asturias, Galicia and Castilla y León. 

Forest fires across Spain in 2020. Image: Educación Forestal

What to do to prevent forest fires

The first and most important thing is to try and prevent forest fires before they even happen and there are several things you can do to help.

  • Keep forests clean

According to Antonio Tortosa, vice president of Tecnifuego-Aespi (the Spanish Association of Protection Against Fires), the first rule is to keep the forests clean. In the summer the temperatures are at their hottest and more people are out in the forests enjoying the countryside. If you are out in the mountains or the forests this summer, remember to take all your rubbish with you and not to leave flammable materials lying around.

This includes things such as cigarette butts, which must be properly extinguished and exposed of, not just thrown on the ground.

  • Keep your property clean

Pablo Mayoral, chief of the Forest Fire Service of the Community of Madrid Firefighters, says that it’s also equally important to keep rural properties clean. “If you have a house in the country, clean the gutters and roofs of plant debris, prune the trees, clear the grass and brush,” he said. He also recommends, planting hedges with less flammable species such as ivy or building masonry walls instead.

If you live in a rural property, you must also think about your water supply and evacuation routes, in case of a fire. 

Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

What not to do:

It is against the law in Spain to light a fire anywhere in the mountains, forests or rural areas any time between May and October.

In the Community of Madrid for example, it is forbidden to use fire for cooking or heating throughout the year on forest lands and on non-urban lands located within 400 meters from the forest edge.

The use of machines or tools that generate sparks such as disk cutters and welding machines should also not be used in rural areas during the summer months.

READ ALSO: What you need to know before having a barbecue in Spain

What to do if you see a forest fire

In the event that you see a forest fire, the first thing to do is call 112 and listen to the instructions from the emergency services.

Do not assume that somebody else has already called the emergency services to inform them of the blaze, your call could provide them with useful information that helps them prevent further damage.

According to the Gipuzkoa Bomberos website in the Basque Country, you should stay away from the fire and head downhill and upwind from it.

This is because forest fires in the mountains progress faster upwards as the heat rises. If you are in a place with little slope or flat ground, the it is recommended that you determine the direction the wind is blowing and move in the opposite direction, as long as that does not bring you closer to the front of the fire.

You should also aim to “move to an area with non-combustible materials, such as a rocky area or a place with water such as a lake or a river”.

Should I flee the scene or seek refuge?

What if you have a house or property nearby though, should you still try to flee the fire? According to official advice, you must abide by the rules in your municipality and follow the directions of the authorities, as each one is slightly different. 

Tortosa on the other hand says that in general, it is advisable to take refuge in a house, as long as it is not made of wood, because vehicles contain highly flammable elements and roads can be blocked at a time when firefighters need to get there quickly.

If you do stay at home, you should “close the blinds, moisten the garden, put towels in the cracks of the doors and windows and remain calm. Stay in the lowest part of the house until the firefighters arrive”.

If you do suffer some burns, put the wound under cold water, do not use ice or other home remedies such as oils or butter. 

What are the punishments for starting forest fires in Spain?

As forest fires can cause such extensive damage, Spain has some serious consequences for those who start them.

If you cause a fire that represents direct danger to life, the penal code establishes a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.

If you cause a fire, but there is no danger to life, it is punishable by prison terms of one to three years. 

When mountains or huge swathes of forest are burned, the prison sentence is one to five years, with an additional 12 to 18 months if there is a danger to life. There may also be a fine to pay.

READ ALSO: Why you probably shouldn’t buy an inflatable pool for your home in Spain

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How much can I save on my Spanish electricity bill now that VAT has been cut?

With welcome news that Spain will cut VAT on electricity from 10 percent to five percent to shield consumers from soaring inflation, how much can you expect to actually save?

How much can I save on my Spanish electricity bill now that VAT has been cut?

On Wednesday June 22nd Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced a further reduction in VAT on electricity prices.

Speaking to the Spanish parliament, Sánchez explained that the VAT reduction, from 10 percent to five percent, would be approved at a cabinet meeting this weekend.

But this isn’t the first time that the Spanish government has taken direct action to tackle skyrocketing electricity prices.

Last year it also slashed the VAT rate on electricity 21 percent to 10 percent to try and soften impact of rising electricity price rises on consumers facing price increases across the board.

Facing criticism for his government’s record on helping consumers, Sánchez blamed “a war at the gates of Europe” for the rises, and said the latest cut will form part of a package of measures to try and stem the effects of inflation, which hit a staggering 8.7 percent in May, the highest level in Spain for decades.

READ MORE: Spain to cut electricity tax by half to ease inflation pain

But how much can you actually expect to save on your electricity bill following the news?

How much will I save?

While a cut to the VAT rate paid on electricity is welcome, in reality it seems the difference to electricity bills will be minimal.

According to experts, lowering VAT from 10 to 5 percent will mean savings of around €4 a month for households with an average consumption (270 kWH per month and a contracted power of 4 kW) on the regulated market.

Let’s look at an example. A household with consumption at 270 kWH per month would have paid €95.43 in the last 31 days. If VAT had been applied at 5 percent, as it will be under the government’s proposed cut, their monthly bill would have worked out €4.30 cheaper.

For comparison, if the government had not stepped in at all and no tax reductions of any kind had been applied, that same receipt would have been €109.6. 

How much will it cost the government?

Cutting VAT, although welcome and much needed by most consumers at the moment, does come at a cost. Officials from the Hacienda believe that lowering VAT to 5 percent will cost the public coffers up to €460 million in the next three months alone. 

Hacienda estimates that the government has so far spent €3.8 billion on all tax cuts to lower electricity bills.

Is it enough?

Is another VAT cut enough to recoup the difference and negate rising prices? Simply put, if wholesale electricity prices (something the Spanish government has no control over) continue to rise at the rate they have been, the prices passed onto the consumer will most likely make the cuts to VAT negligible.

At the start of June, the daily price of electricity began at €210/Mwh, but by this week this Thursday it had already climbed to €272/mWH – a 29.5 percent spike since the beginning of the month equivalent to €62 extra on bills.

With no end to war in Ukraine or the volatility on the energy market in sight, the Spanish government is searching for ways to ease the burden on consumers. Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz recently proposed slashing the price of monthly public transit passes by 50 percent and offering €300 to people hit hardest by rising prices.

READ MORE: Spain eyes €300 handouts for most vulnerable and further fuel reductions