The 235,630 forest fires recorded between 2001 and 2015 burned 1,676,812 hectares (ha) of land, an area larger than 9 of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain, among others: Murcia, Asturias, Navarra, Madrid or the Basque Country.
This map illustrates all fires that destroyed 1 hectares or more between 2001 and 2015, equivalent to 97.9% of the total area burned.
Most fires are intentional
Humans are behind most of the 235,630 fires that occurred between 2001 and 2015. Furthermore, 55% of them were started intentionally (painted in red in this map).
The most affected autonomous community was Galicia, where 33% of the total hectares intentially burned in Spain were located, according to official data. The second on the ranking is Castile y Leon, with 21% of the total area deliberately burnt during the last 15 years.
Data provided by the Government on economic losses and fire fighting expenditures is incomplete. According to official data, these fires cost the public treasury more than 1.2 billion euros.
Great forest fires
Fires of 500 hectares or more -officially denominated "big forest fires" (BFF)- are few in numbers, but their consequences are devastating. In quantitative terms, they represent only 0.16% of the total of fires occurred between 2001 and 2015. However, they burnt 40.7% of the total surface affected.
WWF Spain highlighted in its report "Forests ready to burn in 2015", that "in regions such as Valencia, Catalonia and Canary Islands, at least 85% of the burned area per year (2005-2014) is due to BFFs". WWF explains that BFF are originated on forest masses where monospecific, very inflamable species have been planted, as Eucalyptus, Pinus halepensis or Pinus pilaster. The organization proposes the regeneration of mixed and irregular forest with autochthonous and fire resistant species.
Natural Protected Areas?
23.8% of the calcined surface between 2005 (first year with data available) and 2015 belong to a protected natural space. The fact it was "protected" didn't save it from the flames.
A striking case is the National Park of Lago de Sanabria (Zamora), the biggest lake of glaciar origin in the Iberian Peninsula. In only nine years it suffered 201 fires that burned 15,789 hectares, according to the information facilitated by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Almost every fire is registered as intentional in the official reports.
Among the main motives registered are: regeneration of pastures and the elimination of scrub by livestock farmers and herdsmen, or the reproduction of badly extinct fires.
Burned to rezone? Data says no
Every summer, as the fire season starts, there is a popular suspicion that forest fires are largely caused due to urban planning interests: to rezone the land and, ultimately, to favour urban development and growth.
However, data debunks this assertion. Between 2001 and 2015, only 0.31% of the forest fires was caused to change land use, according to the EGIF database. Look at the map: they are so few that they are barely seen. They all sum 401 fires, which add up to a total of over one thousand burned hectares all together. This area represents only 0.12% of the total extent of the forest intentionally burned in this period.
Fires are merciless with Galicia
Galicia was the autonomous region where the most of the fires occurred between 2001 and 2015: 38% of the total in Spain. 90.219 forest fires burned over 380,723 hectares, an area larger than the Biscay province. Most of them were intentional, up to 80%, according to official statistics (which some experts consulted do not corroborate)
Orense was the most affected province. In addition, data shows that among the 100 Spanish municipalities where more fires have taken place between 2001 and 2015, 72 of them are located in Galicia.
Fires are located on the map according to the coordinates of the General Statistics of Forest Fires (EGIF), the database compiled by the ministry, but we have detected location errors.
More information on the methodology.