The cranes started passing over Pamplona yesterday evening.
They were chased by the rain that came in overnight. The first in weeks.
Autumn has thus officially started.
And hopefully also this means the end of the fire season for this year.
While Ireland braced for an almost unheard of hurricane in the North Atlantic, in northern Spain and Portugal, forest fires were killing even more people than Ophelia killed.
There were dozens burning over the weekend and until Tuesday, when the rains helped to finally extinguish them.
Unlike hurricanes, though, which are terrible, and indirectly related to man’s activities, these forest fires were only wild in the sense of the untamed destruction they could wreak. They were not natural. They were man made, purposefully started, and repeatedly so.
After so many deaths, there are now questions being asked of politicians as to how these arsonists can be stopped. Spanish news has little else, other that the Catalan situation – politics and fraud, even football has been put in the background by the terrible scenes of people trying to escape burning villages only having to turn back as the roads are flanked with flames, and others park inside a motorway tunnel to wait rescue, or let the fires pass overhead.
Because these fires have been a part of summer in places like Galicia for years. As soon as the weather dries, huge tracts of forests go up there. All directly caused by humans and usually set intentionally, with a few the result of stupidity and neglect.
The people of Portugal are naturally outraged, after a summer of huge fires has been followed by an autumn death toll almost as terrible, with dozens of people claimed by the flames.
The perpetrators must be caught and jailed for their murders, but also, the politicians and police, if it is the case, must be held responsible for letting this situation get to this state. Why have these people not been caught for their previous fires? – because there’s no way these conflagrations were started by first-time arsonists.
Why do people go out of their way to set fires, driving along highways in the middle of the night with fireworks tied to helium balloons?
It’s clear they have nothing better to do, and they’re assholes of the highest calibre, but there must be some other, external, motivation for most of the fires. What is it? Why has it not been identified years ago and why has it not been removed?
There are forests that could burn just as badly and even more easily in other parts of Spain, so why are there not so many fires elsewhere? Galicia has 40% of all fires in the country, and half the area burnt every year for the last decade.
Surely the arsonists are spread out in a broader swath across the country. Or is there something about the mind-set of Galicians that makes them excessively prone to arson?
The gorse fires and heather fires we have seen in Ireland in recent years were all set intentionally for financial gain – the current agricultural subsidy system means that farmers make more money if there land is considered in use, even if it’s not.
Ultimately, stopping them will require a change in the EU farming subsidy system to allow land go fallow without farmers losing money.
Is there a financial motivation in Galicia and Portugal for setting huge fires?
According to Ecologists in Action, this is only the cause of a small proportion of the fires set.
What other factors are in play?
The use of fire for farming practices is permitted much more freely than elsewhere.
In most of Spain it is not permitted to light fires in camping and picnic areas and other recreational areas during times of fire risk. Not so in Galicia.
Vehicles are also allowed onto forest paths in Galicia during the summer, which is prohibited elsewhere.
AND they allow fireworks in village festivals during the summer, which is just asking for trouble.
But as I said, the summer is over.
The cranes, luckily, don’t stay long in Spain during their migration.
When they passed before on their way north I wrote this poem. Hopefully it will ease the depression of these fires. Watching the birds certainly lifts the spirit.
The Great Migration
I’ve not yet seen the Serengeti,
Nor the caribou upon the artic plains
But up above my house in the hills,
I’ve been privileged to witness
The cranes migrating, calling
Eyes aloft to observe their long
Strings streaked across the sky
Huge wing beats by the thousands,
And can’t but wonder where
Those numbers bide in other times,
(Amazed such spaces yet exist)
And where they will find abode
In other climes.
I’ve not posted any poems in a while, so I decided to add a page of Haikus to my website today. Hope one or two will please 🙂
I’m a big fan of fireworks. Perhaps because they are illegal in Ireland, and all we could get our hands on were small illegal boxes of bangers (firecrackers) make our own from two bolts, a nut and the scraped-off sulphur from a box of matches. A roman candle was a big fecking deal down at our bonfire on Halloween. (we will leave aside making cans of silicone spray explode here).
I’d never seen a firework display in real life until I went to America and was there for 4th of July. 20 years ago I was in Estes Park, Colorado, where my mates and I sat overlooking the lake. It was pretty damn cool.
But then I went to the San Fermin festival the first time, 2 years later. There I saw fireworks that put Estes Park in the ha’penny place – 8 nights in a row!
Ten years ago I was in Boston for the first time – watching down on the Mass Ave. bridge over the Charles River. We’d gone down after a barbecue in Brookline. It was impressive, but not quite up to the level of Pamplona. Definitely worth the walk and the watch for a fan like me, though.
Five years ago I was on a boat on a lake in Georgia (USA) and that was pretty nice, with a beer in hand and burgers in the belly. Four years ago I was in Maine, on a lake where the only fireworks were let off by locals on their docks and beaches. But my belly was full of lobster and it was an idyllic spot – peaceful and the lake like a mirror with the moon coming up – for watching even small fireworks.
This year I am having a similar experience to the folks back in Boston – pissing rain and stormy – this 4th of July. But even if the weather was perfect on the Charles, I’d prefer to be here in Pamplona for the 6th than there for the 4th – even if we are only talking about fireworks and not the rest of the festival.
My conclusion after all these years of 4th of Julys?
America does barbeque the best, but still has a ways to go in firework displays!
Oh, and Pamlona seriously needs to get itself a lake.
Maybe it could flood the citadel for the festivals….