HOMES DE­STROYED IN TAV­ERNES FIRE

Houses de­stroyed in large for­est fire caused by lack of clear­ance

Costa Blanca News (North Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By Samantha Kett

HOUSES went up in flames and res­i­dents be­came trapped by a wall of fire af­ter an in­ferno broke out near the beach in Tav­ernes de la Valldigna (La Safor, Va­len­cia) on Tues­day evening.

High winds and warm tem­per­a­tures, com­bined with the Va­len­cia re­gion's worst drought in 150 years meant the scrub­land near the coun­try lane known as the Camí Marenys went up like a tin­der­box.

Fire­fight­ers were called out at around 17.30 hrs by pan­icked home­own­ers and were forced to evac­u­ate the ru­ral vil­las in the area, which is close to the bor­der with Xer­aco and just a few me­tres from the sea.

For­tu­nately, no­body was hurt, al­though some of the houses suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age.

De­spite the flames spread­ing out and en­gulf­ing sev­eral kilo­me­tres of coun­try­side within min­utes, emer­gency ser­vices had com­pletely ex­tin­guished it by night­fall.

Mayor Jordi Juan co­in­cided with af­fected res­i­dents in heav­ily crit­i­cis­ing the own­ers of aban­doned plots which had caught fire.

These over­ground stretches of land are a for­est fire risk, but are never cleared or at­tended to.

They are owned by banks which ei­ther re­pos­sessed them from pri­vate own­ers and de­vel­op­ers who were un­able to pay the mort­gages on them, or were bought for 'spec­u­la­tion' in­vest­ment and ' sat on' wait­ing for their value to go up so they could be resold.

All the plots were clas­si­fied as ' ur­ban', or res­i­den­tial and suit­able for con­struc­tion, in 2004.

But af­ter seiz­ing or pur­chas­ing the plots, the banks have never both­ered to clear the knee-high weeds which, once with­ered and dried out, al­lowed the blaze to spread out of con­trol.

"Property is­sues and hot weather are an ex­plo­sive cock­tail - ne­glected plots are like an gun­pow­der ar­se­nal," said Sr Juan on his Face­book site.

"Many of these plots are owned by banks, bought for spec­u­la­tive pur­poses, and now, these same banks can­not even be both­ered to keep them clean.

"Own­ers are legally re­quired to keep their land in safe con­di­tions."

PREVEN­TION CUT­BACKS

This week the re­gional govern­ment an­nounced that it will main­tain the 40 per cent re­duc­tion in for­est brigaes and emer­gency fire ser­vices in the Va­len­cian moun­tains this sum­mer.

Trades unions and other pro­fes­sion­als are warn­ing that the means to deal with fires in the re­gion's moun­tains and forests this year are 'in­suf­fi­cient' and that sum­mer hol­i­day sub­sti­tu­tions are not ad­e­quately cov­ered.

This leaves Castel­lón prov­ince with 50 fire per­son­nel less than was the norm un­til 2010 - in a year pre­dicted to be cat­a­strophic for wild­fires due to the se­vere drought suf­fo­cat­ing the re­gion.

Fire per­son­nel will once again be se­verely re­duced this sum­mer

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