Farmers, Politicians Blame Each Other as Wildfires Burn in Puglia

Farmers have blamed the rapid spread of the wildfires on dead olive trees that were killed by Xylella fastidiosa and never removed by local governments. Some politicians have insinuated that these trees are being intentionally burned.

Aug. 7, 2020
By Paolo DeAndreis

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More than 1,400 wild­fires have burned across the south­ern Italian region of Puglia in the last few weeks, destroy­ing olive groves and their sur­round­ings, includ­ing areas severely impacted by Xylella fas­tidiosa.

The local branch of the farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion, Coldiretti, has esti­mated that in a mat­ter of days more than 600 olive trees spread over nine hectares (22 acres) have burned down in the Ugento area alone, not far from Lecce.

While fate and tem­per­a­tures are obvi­ous causes for those inci­dents, one could think that there are peo­ple who want to get rid of olive trees that are no longer fruit­ful and clear space for other ven­tures.- Sergio Blasi, Puglia regional coun­cil­man

Coldiretti esti­mated that there has been an aver­age of 30 fires each day this sum­mer, a fig­ure derived from calls to the local fire brigades as well as the local sta­tions of the Italian Civil Protection orga­ni­za­tion.

The asso­ci­a­tion believes that hot­ter-than-nor­mal tem­per­a­tures have fueled the wild­fires, but Xylella fas­tidiosa has also been iden­ti­fied as a major cause of the spread of the fires among the groves of Italy’s largest olive oil pro­duc­ing region.

See Also: Natural Disasters

Thousands of trees have burned in the last two months in the Lecce area, often within aban­doned groves where trees killed by Xylella still stand,” Savino Muraglia, pres­i­dent of Coldiretti Puglia, said.

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Farmers believe that the dead trees con­sti­tute a sig­nif­i­cant risk for the spread of Xylella as well as for the safety of the coun­try­side, as they are often sur­rounded by dry grass, which burns eas­ily.

Our olive trees suf­fer invalu­able dam­age and yet farm­ers can­not uproot the trees, plant new ones and, most of all, cul­ti­vate the needed crop diver­si­fi­ca­tion- Savino Muraglia, President of Coldiretti Puglia

It is unac­cept­able,” Muraglia said. Our olive trees suf­fer invalu­able dam­age and yet farm­ers can­not uproot the trees, plant new ones and, most of all, cul­ti­vate the needed crop diver­si­fi­ca­tion.”

Coldiretti also empha­sized how dif­fi­cult it is for the local fire brigades to extin­guish the flames, stat­ing that up to 300 litres (almost 80 gal­lons) of water are required to extin­guish a sin­gle olive tree.

However, the idea that Xylella is a major cause of the olive tree wild­fires is not a uni­ver­sally accepted one, with one local politi­cian mus­ing that some of the fires may be set inten­tion­ally to remove prob­lem­atic trees.

Every day small and large olive orchards affected by Xylella catch on fire,” regional coun­cil­man Sergio Blasi said. While fate and tem­per­a­tures are obvi­ous causes for those inci­dents, one could think that there are peo­ple who want to get rid of olive trees that are no longer fruit­ful and clear space for other ven­tures.”

Blasi is behind the approval of a regional law that for­bids any Xylella-infected olive grove owner from chang­ing the des­ig­nated use of the land for at least seven years, a law which is meant to deter acts of arson in olive groves.

However, the pres­i­dent of the Coldiretti Lecce, Gianni Cantele, strongly denied the pos­si­bil­ity that farm­ers might be set­ting the fires them­selves.

Instead, he said the fires were proof that the region’s farm­ers need con­crete inter­ven­tions to uproot the trees, replant their groves and let those areas come back to life after years of announce­ments, promises and lack of a true impe­tus to restore our olive her­itage.”

Coldiretti asked all involved par­ties to finally face the Xylella threat and said it is not a prob­lem affect­ing farm­ers alone.

Anyone think­ing that Xylella is a dis­ease strik­ing agri­cul­ture alone does not see the real­ity of the dam­ages this pathogen has brought to the local econ­omy as a whole,” Muraglia said. From agri­cul­ture to tourism, all the way up to the related com­mer­cial and arti­sanal activ­i­ties con­nected to agribusi­ness and hos­pi­tal­ity.”

Coldiretti has said that the sur­veil­lance and main­te­nance of the territory’s olive groves by agri­cul­tural com­pa­nies is an impor­tant step to pre­vent wild­fires from spread­ing.

The asso­ci­a­tion added that a recently-imple­mented reg­u­la­tion allows farm­ers to sign agree­ments with local author­i­ties to develop and deploy prac­tices that help safe­guard the land from wild­fires and other nat­ural dis­as­ters.





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