Portugal — The consequences of a rainless winter are taking their toll, not only on farmers and cattle but also on fire brigades across the country. During February this year the driest since records began fire-fighters fought more forest fires than they did last year in August, the hottest month of 2011.
Figures from the National Forest Authority (AFN) and from the Civil Protection Authority (ANPC) show that during the course of last month, 4,186 fires were reported throughout Portugal, hundreds more than during August last year, when fire brigades tackled 3,982 fires.
In terms of fires, February 2012 could probably be more closely compared to July 2011 when 4,342 fires were registered.
Comparing outbreaks during the first two months of 2012 to the number of fires registered during the same time span of 2011, wild fires this year increased seven-fold to the year before.
In total, during January and February 2012, 4,587 fires were detected, massively more than the 593 fires registered throughout the first two months of the year before.
Speaking to Lusa News Agency, ANPC spokesperson Miguel Cruz said that on 24 February more forest blazes were fought than any other day of the year so far, with the fire services responding to 372 incidents in 24 hours.
Miguel Cruz stressed that even though 2005 was also an atypical year from a metrological point of view and due to unusual dryness was conducive to fires, that year only 3,617 fires were registered.
ANPCs data shows that the worst affected part of Portugal this year were the northern regions; 641 fires were registered in Viseu, 624 in Oporto, 460 in Vila Real and 392 in Braga.
Another point that Cruz made is that it is necessary to demystify the idea that fires only break out when it is hot.
Obviously, when humidity levels are low and temperatures are above average, if there is no rain then the right conditions have been created to facilitate the igniting and spreading of fires. However, the ignition needs an origin and that origin in 88 percent of cases is human and association to practices which are carried out in the rural world, he explained.
Last week the Ministry for Home Affairs (MAI) boosted fire-fighting operational resources by freeing up one more Canadair water-plane and an additional 82 fire-fighters, as well as 382,000 to bolster
the 100 most beleaguered fire stations.
And it seems the boost is to be repeated in summer after it emerged this week that more resources have been made available for fire-fighters this year.
On Monday it was announced that this years National Protection Plan for Forest Fire Fighting (DECIF) will involve 9,000 more men and more aircraft than in 2011, to cover the highest-risk period of the year, Phase Charlie.
During Phase Charlie from 1 July until 20 September this year, Portuguese fire-fighting units will be able to fall back on 44 aircraft 35 medium-size helicopters, five heavy helicopters and four amphibious planes 2,253 teams from different forces, 1,987 vehicles and 9,327 men and women who include around one hundred more full-time fire-fighters.
Last years resources comprised 9,210 fire-fighters (775 fewer than in 2010), 2,018 vehicles (158 fewer than in 2010) and 41 aircraft (15 fewer than the year before).
The government has also set aside a budget of up to 36.5 million to hire more aircraft should they be necessary, a MAI source has said.
Speaking during the inauguration of a newly remodelled fire-station in Montemôr-o-Novo, Portugals Minister for Home Affairs Miguel Macedo said that the boost was already planned last year and was not determined by the current meteorological circumstances.