Saturday, August 13

the danger of fires caused by electrocuted birds


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The birds they can also be the spark that starts a Forest fire. Last year a griffon vulture that collided with a power line ended up in a fire that devastated 700 hectares in Alburquerque (Badajoz), for example. In Chile it was worse. Two vultures caused the largest urban fire in the country’s history, with 2,900 homes destroyed, 15 dead and half a thousand injured in 2014.

These are just two examples of an incident that is repeated every year. In Spain, it is estimated that fires caused by birds are 2.4% of all fires linked to power lines. Vultures, eagles or magpies literally end up in flames. They collide or land on the power line, and if there is a short, their plumage is engulfed in fire.

When they fall to the dry, weedy ground common to summer and early fall, they can start a fire.

Spain has 800,000 km of power lines and, although they have begun to be repaired to reduce the mortality of fauna, most are still dangerous for birds. “It is a very high percentage. There are more dangerous power lines than there are not”, explains Juan Manuel Pérez-García, co-author of the study ‘Forest fires as a collateral effect of the electrocution of wildlife: an economic perspective’. The group of researchers analyzed thirteen years of fire (from 2000 to 2012) and their conclusion was clear: birds are an underappreciated cause of fires. The economic impact in that period ranged between 7.6 and 12.4 million euros.

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“It is something that can be more recurrent in time and that is why we have to be vigilant”, confirms Antoni Margalida, senior scientist at the CSIC at the Research Institute for Hunting Resources (IREC).

Precisely in the United States, the Bulletin of the Wildlife Society has just published a study on forest fires started by birds,
Science
. There, only between 2014 and 2018 there have been at least 44. In Idaho, for example, more than 4,000 hectares burned in 2015, an area almost twelve times the size of Central Park.

In Spain, the areas of grassland, scrubland or crops such as wheat are the ones that present the greatest risk, explains Pérez-García. Wooded areas present less risk, as they offer alternatives for birds to rest and thus reduce the danger of electrocution.

“We think this [incendios causados por aves] It has always happened, but it had not been investigated,” says Pérez-García. Now, however, the growing scientific and social interest is translating into an increase in regulations to improve lines and “greater pressure on electricity companies and administrations” to correct the lines, says the researcher. “That will reduce electrocutions and potential fires.”

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