Comments of the GFMC on the Fire Situation in Portugal
Three reports selected for todays Media Update on the global fire situation reveal the core issues of the fires burning in Portugal.
According to a report by The Associated Press (AP) of 22 August 2005 wildfires fanned by high winds burned out of control across Portugal on Monday as the country suffered through its worst drought in years. Most affected is the city of Coimbra, seat of the center of excellence in forest fire research, in the North of Lisbon. According to the AP the Portuguese government, no longer able to cope with the more than 25 fires burning through forest and farmland, called on the European Union for help over the weekend. France sent two Canadair firefighting planes to Portugal on Sunday, and Spain sent one, while three helicopters from Germany and another Canadair from Italy were due to start firefighting operations on Tuesday. The Dutch air force was contributing two Cougar helicopters, each capable of carrying 2,500 liters of water. The Azores firefighting department also offered to send in men to the mainland. The largest number of fires burned in the northern districts of Viseu and Viana do Castelo. Further south, Coimbra, the country’s third-largest city, was surrounded by fires moving on two fronts, firefighters said. Flames and smoke could be seen from parts of the city, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Lisbon, and the fire had already entered a number of boroughs, they said. Flames had destroyed more than 10 houses on the outskirts of the city, and 50 people in that area fled their homes, firefighters said. Another large fire was burning in Abrantes in the district of Santarem, 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Lisbon, where 200 firefighters were battling the flames on five fronts. Some 2,000 firefighters, supported by 795 firetrucks and 31 airplanes and helicopters were fighting the flames countrywide. The armed forces had also sent 600 psersonnel to monitor areas where fires had been extinguished. Strong winds rekindled several fires during the weekend. More winds and high temperatures were forecast for the coming days. Temperatures are expected to start dropping on Wednesday, and there was chance of mild rain, weather forecasts said. Portugal’s summer wildfires have so far burned through 140,000 hectares, already more than the total area burned last year, officials said. Last year’s fires burned 129,652 hectares (320,370 acres) and in 2003 – the worst for wildfires in the last two decades – the blazes burned 425,000 hectares.
BBC News reported on 22 August 2005 about the assistance rushed by EU member countries to the wildfire theatre in Portugal. Spain and France have each sent two water-dropping aircraft and another is due to arrive from Italy on Monday. Two helicopters are being sent from the Netherlands and three from Germany, along with experts to help tackle around 27 blazes in wood and farmland. President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso visited areas affected by fires in the north of Portugal during a holiday visit and pledged support for his home country. European Commission spokesman Rupert Kreitemeyer told the BBC’s World Today programme that the commission had co-ordinated the response to Portugal’s appeal for help. He said France and Spain had already sent water-dropping planes, while help from Germany and Italy was expected to arrive later.
A Reuters report of 22 August 2005 blames poor land management which made it harder for firefighters in drought-stricken Portugal to tackle the country’s worst forest fires in decades. Relatively more forest has burned in Portugal than in equally parched neighbouring Spain and in France this summer — and experts say this is because of bad land management that makes fire prevention more difficult. Portugal’s biggest problem is the lack of a central registry of land ownership, said Domingos Cartaxo, a forest engineer with the Quercus environmental group. “Land registration is key,” he said. “Many laws can be introduced, but if this structural question is not addressed, the fires will continue to burn.” If there was a central registry, the authorities could identify forest owners and compel them to create fire walls of cleared land, or plant belts of fire-resistant tree species, making it much easier to prevent or control fires, he said. Uncertainty over who owns land is made worse by the fact that many Portuguese are abandoning land they own in rural areas, meaning there is no one to monitor many of the country’s forests. The planting of large areas of eucalyptus for paper and pulp in recent years has also contributed to the spread of forest fires because they burn more easily than many other species. Cartaxo thinks a land registry has not been created because it would be too expensive at a time when Portugal is struggling to contain the biggest budget deficit in the European Union. Still, the increasingly severe lack of rain in recent years has given the idea new impetus. “The state needs to take radical measures,” the daily Diario de Noticias said in an editorial on Monday, adding that that should include “interfering with property rights” if necessary. Prime Minister Jose Socrates has vowed to tackle the underlying problems that make the firefighters’ task so hard. Luciano Lourenco, head of the Forest Fire Prevention Agency, said some reforms introduced after devastating fires in 2003 were taking effect, but “it is not possible to make changes from one year to the next.”
Latest satellite scenes showing fires and fire affected areas in Northern Portugal:
Fires continued to burn across dry woodlands in Portugal in mid-August 2005. High temperatures and low relative humidity are adding to firefighters difficulties in controlling the blazes, which have burned off and on in central and northern Portugal since July. This image of the region was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASAs Terra satellite on 22 August 2005. Active fire locations have been marked with red dots.
TERRA 22 August 2005 13:55 hrs UTC (Image courtesy MODIS) True colour: Bands 1-4-3 False Colour: Bands 7-2-1
The links provide a 250 m resolution for both scenes
The infrared-enhanced image makes burned areas (deep reddish brown) stand out from healthy vegetation (bright green) and water (dark blue). Clouds appear bright blue.
Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI):
The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASAs Terra satellite also enhanced the previous image from the 21 August 2005 by including the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) which is strongly correlated to surface temperatures and surface moisture status.