Turbines defy forest fires sweeping Spain

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Following forest fires that raged for 11 days across 770 square kilometres of Spain's northernmost re-gion of Galicia, wind turbines were, in many areas, the only sign of normal life left standing among the ashes and charred aftermath. The very winds that have made Galicia one of the world's most coveted wind power development hotspots became one of its worst enemies, together with a prolonged drought and more than 20 suspected pyromaniacs.

Gusts of up to 90 kph (over 50 mph) swept the 150 different fires across large expanses, bringing together fire fighters from all over the country as well as neighbouring Portugal. With nearly 2400 MW of wind power concentrated in the region, which is roughly the size of Sicily, Galicia's wind operators were on red alert. Major blazes surrounded at least half a dozen wind farms and even encroached upon the outskirts of the regional capital, Santiago de Compostela.

But the wind turbines kept turning. And, apart from a major scare as fire fighters beat back flames approaching the control centre of the Corzán wind station, operated by Italian-Spanish utility partners, Enel-Unión Fenosa Energías Renevables (Eufer), "no plant damage has been reported" says David Cheda for the regional wind association, Asociación Eólica Gallega.

In fact, if anything positive has come out of it, the spate of fires has proven that "wind farms impede fires spreading as all undergrowth is cleared," says Cheda. "The access roads act as fire breaks and also provide access to the fire brigades," he adds. "Furthermore, wind developers support the costs of municipal fire brigades and provide fire fighting equipment and vehicles."

The presence of wind plant staff, often in remote forest areas and with high vantage points from the top of turbines, also provides ready-made fire watchdogs. The down side is that the access roads are there for the good and badly intentioned alike. The Corzán blaze, one of the worst, started within the grounds of the wind farm after delinquents drove there to burn a car they had stolen. Three days later, winds had swept that blaze across ten kilometres.

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