Fires destroy 5,000 hectares of Portuguese forests in six months

Fires destroy 5,000 hectares of Portuguese forests in six months

7 August 2008

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Portugal — Fires have destroyed 5,000 hectares of forests in Portugal from January to July, the secretary of Fishing and Rural Development, Ascenso Simoes, said on Monday at the inauguration of the ‘Tree Parade’ event in Faro. Simoes said the situation is positive compared with previous years, “but there is still a lot to do.”

A Forestry Regional Office is about to be set up in the Algarve, one of the areas most affected by forest fires in recent years, Simoes said, adding that five such offices will be set up nationwide to more effectively fight fires.

Four councils in the Algarve were classified as being at very high risk from fires this week. The Institute of Meteorology issued warnings of very high risk of forest fires for the Alcoutim, Castro Marim and Monchique and Aljezur, with warnings of high risk of forest fires for the rest of the inland areas of the Algarve.

On August 1, Ascenso Simoes participated in a pioneering initiative with the Secretary of State at the Vilar Formoso border, where they welcomed the Portuguese immigrants to European countries who, every year, come back by the thousands to their home towns to spend their summer vacations. Simoes spent the day explaining to people the basic rules of forest fire prevention and telling them that a Portugal without forest fires is possible and only depends on everybody’s will to follow the rules.

According to Portuguese law, until the end of September it is an offence to smoke, to make any sort of fire or to throw fireworks in the neighbourhood of forests and agricultural areas. A total ban on people entering or circulating in some specific areas, considered by the authorities as having a very high risk of forest fires, is also foreseen by the law. It is also forbidden to throw cigarette butts out of vehicle windows, or light bonfires and farmers are prohibited from using fire to clear ground. People who own houses in forest areas are also obliged to clear a 50 metre security strip around their houses.

The same cleared area is mandatory around industrial units, motorways and railway tracks.

In the Algarve, the member of the Portuguese government inaugurated another event that aims to make people aware of the need to follow forest fire prevention procedures. Inspired by the idea of ‘Cow Parade’ events, the forestry and educational departments of the Portuguese government have organized a ‘Tree Parade’ in Faro. Identical ‘trees’ were painted and decorated by children of different schools all over the Algarve and most trees are, naturally, dedicated to environmental issues.

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