The Balearic emergency and forestry protection departments have started to prepare for the annual summer battle against forest fires. Yesterday the regional Minister for the Environment, Margalida Rosselló, unveiled this year's offensive which for the first time will also include a campaign aimed at schools. The “protect forests, avoid fires” awareness drive will target 464 primary and secondary schools across the Balearics, especially those in more rural areas. For example there are 43 schools in the Serra de Tramuntana and 17 have already signed up to take part in the campaign. Margalida Rosselló said yesterday that the reason for the focus being on schools this year is because “apart from being the adults of the future, they can help influence their parents and prevent them from taking any risks.” The Minister stressed the fact that 36 per cent of forest fires in the Balearics are caused by human negligence, hence why the focus is more on society in the battle against forest fires. The islands are equipped with more than adequate fire fighting equipment and manpower to battle blazes, but Rosselló believes that the key to further reducing the number of fires is to put the emphasis on fire prevention which to a large extent involves the general public as well as the teams of fire “spotters” from the Guardia Civil Seprona nature protection squad, which spends all summer keeping a close watch over the islands' forest fire hot spots. The Ministry has set up an informative website and is publishing a host of booklets and posters, along with a video for teachers participating in the campaign. This year's budget for the Balearic forest fire offensive is 4.5 million euros. At the end of March, the Minister called the chiefs of all participating administrations and emergency services together for a meeting to discuss this year's global fire prevention operation. Involved in the battle are the Guardia Civil, the National Police, Civil Protection, the army, all fire brigades and local councils, the water board and the local government. This year the budget has been increased by 50 per cent and the number of people involved is to be doubled, with the bulk of the extra manpower being used in surveillance and detection operations. Rosselló wants to see “rapid detection” of forest fires this year. Every year the Balearics have managed to reduce the extent of the damage caused by forest fires and last year 31 people were arrested in connection with causing forest fires. The Ministry for the Environment will again be drawing up its map of Balearic “hot spots” and will also be reminding farmers and hikers of their responsibilities. The agricultural sector was last year given a code of conduct which has to be complied with, or face heavy fines.

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