José Almodóvar Aráez, Head of the Forest Fire Department, Cuenca province, Castilla-La Mancha Wildfire Service of Spain
My name is José Almodóvar Aráez, I am Head of the Forest Fire Department in Cuenca province, part of the Castilla-La Mancha Wildfire Service of Spain. I have been a professional wildfire fighter and a forester since 2002 in Castilla-La Mancha, a region in the centre of Spain. I was a Seconded National Expert from 2017–2020 in ECHO, when I spent time in Brussels contributing to the development of the UCPM.
Right now, I am packing for a UCPM deployment in Canada, where I will be part of the Spanish wildfire fighter teams that will join French and Portuguese assistance in Quebec. I think this is a perfect moment to speak about being a wildfire fighter and my role in EU Civil Protection.
I started my career in wildfires as a helicopter crew boss (‘Helitack crew’, as they call it in the USA). I commanded a crew that was transported by helicopter to different fires. It started as a summer job while I was looking for some other opportunities, but soon I realised that this job was what I wanted to do for a living. After some years, I became an officer specialised in forest fire operations.
I am currently Incident Commander and Head of Operations for wildfires types C and D (the most complicated types) in the Castilla-La Mancha region. We also support the others regions of Spain, and in the same way they support us, in complex situations, like those we experienced in 2022.
During wintertime, our crews are involved in forestry prevention and fuel breaks, but for the forest fire season we are totally dedicated to putting out fires that may appear in the region. I am also part of the Forest Fire Assessment and Advisory Team (FAST), the Spanish module registered in the European civil protection pool ready to support wildfire emergencies anywhere in the world. In 2023, we were deployed in Chile on a tough, but very rewarding, mission. Right now, I am packing to be deployed to Quebec as part of EU assistance, where the FAST will contribute to the European and American teams. The team is very excited and motivated, since it is the first international experience for many of them.
To help EU firefighters adapt to new challenges, the exchange of knowledge is becoming crucial; what Norway may be experiencing right now, we have suffered something similar a number of decades ago. We also have a lot to learn from wildfires episodes in Portugal and Greece, which is why we need to make the most of the opportunities the Knowledge Network provides for us to share knowledge and experiences.
The EU is putting a lot of effort into creating a European forest fire fleet to respond to these bigger emergencies. The objective now is working on forest fire management to help to create a more resilient landscape. We need to help forests with their transition to the new scenario that climate change is bringing.