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FOREST BLAZES

Catalan cash cuts hamper firefighters’ efforts to stamp out blazes

High-risk season hit by lack of funds as land affected by wildfires triples the 2011 total

Catalonia, one of the regions that has been hardest hit by wildfires this year, had greatly reduced its fire-fighting budget for the summer season, as well as cutting the number of firefighters it hires.

Officials say it has been the worst season for fires in a decade. This year, forest fires have burned 132,299 hectares of land across Spain, three times more than in 2011 when 39,573 hectares were charred by wildfires, according to Environment Ministry figures.

Firefighters in Catalonia complained that public funds destined to the summer campaign, which stood at 30 million euros in 2010, were budgeted at 24 million in 2012. They were raised slightly from last year’s 22.8 million. Money going to awareness campaigns has also been cut from 330,000 euros to 63,100 euros in two years.

In February, Catalan firefighters warned at a public hearing of “an imminent problem” with regard to this year’s high-risk season. Budget cuts also meant that there weren’t enough funds to cover the cost of uniforms this year. “There were some people who couldn’t help extinguish the flames because they had no boots or gloves,” said Antonio del Río, UGT union representative for the firefighters.

There have been four fatalities in Catalonia related to the emergencies. A fire that broke out in La Jonquera, destroying 13,000 hectares near Alt Empordà, claimed the lives of two people on July 22. That same day, a father and his daughter perished after they tried to escape another fire in Portbou.

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