Every year, Portugal is deeply affected by wildfires and every year we lose a significant part of our forest, family houses are destroyed leaving its inhabitants with nothing, local businesses are lost, farms that sustain families are wiped out, and most importantly, every year several deaths and serious injuries are accounted for directly or indirectly due to these wildfires.
2017 was definitely one of the worst and darkest years ever recorded due to the devastation of fires. One of the most tragic events of that year was in Pedrógão Grande in the Leiria district. A huge wildfire that started on June 17th and began to spread to neighboring counties, ultimately merging with another big wildfire on June 20th that also started on the same day in Góis in Coimbra district. The disaster is the biggest forest fire ever in Portugal, the deadliest in the country's history and the 11th deadliest in the world since 1900.
A lot could have been done to prevent such disasters in that year and the years that followed. We, as citizens, are encouraged every year to follow preventive measures but the awareness of such measures is still lacking, as many owners and managers of the territory are still not complying with the law, despite several warnings from the Government. Although this years’ wildfires were less severe compared to previous years, part of it is thanks to prevention awareness campaigns that were intensified after 2017.
Because we're still in July and Summers in Portugal can easily extend until September/October with extreme temperatures, Savvy Cat Realty reminds everyone to take their part in the prevention of wildfires. If you own property in Portugal, especially in a rural area, your property might be affected by wildfires and you are not exempt from taking these preventative measures.
WHAT IS FORBIDDEN DURING THE CRITICAL PERIOD
The Portuguese Government has established the most critical period from July 1st to September 30th. During this period, the use of any form of fire on rural areas is prohibited, as indicated by the following Articles from Decree-Law:
Burnings, prescripted burnings or bonfires (except traditional fires during local festivals, only when inside dwellings, and with the appropriate authorization);
Launch of fireworks or other kind of fire uses (e.g.: smoking, beekeeping, fumigators, etc.);
Use of machinery and equipment without any form of heat or sparks retention (heat or flames insulation in exhausts and chimneys, for example in forestry activities);
Bonfires during this period require an authorization requested to local authorities - Parish or Municipality - and the municipality must define the necessary monitoring of the bonfire;
Any bonfire done during this period without the proper authorization and necessary monitoring from the local authorities is considered an act of ARSON;
FUEL MANAGEMENT BANDS
Fuel management bands are the top measures in the front line of prevention and property protection from wildfires. It is a legal imposition of 50-meter “cleaning” strips around dwellings.
This measure was set in action after the great wildfires of 2003 and 2004, but in 2017, the Portuguese Government launched a nationwide sensitization campaign called “The Prevention Campaign”, promoted by the Ministries of Internal Administration (MAI) and by the Ministry of Agriculture on reminding citizens to clear land around houses.
António Costa, Portugal’s Prime-Minister has stated about the campaign in 2018: “throughout this year, there was an extraordinary mobilization of the country (...) to created interruption strips and expand the protection areas around villages and houses, in order to reduce the load of combustible material.”
This campaign is still very much active today and we’re starting to see its results.
HOW CAN THEY HELP PREVENT DAMAGE:
Contrary to what is believed, the area should not be COMPLETELY cleared. These bands are mostly managed areas of bushes and forest;
They allow firefighters to easily access the area and fight fire. Fighting fire just next to your house is completely different from dozens of meters away from it and it can make a big difference on the outcome;
Avoid the fire to reach your property easily;
WHERE TO CREATE FUEL MANAGEMENT BANDS:
Access roads (including private ones);
Dwellings (isolated or agglomerated);
Warehouses and workshops;
Campsides, logistical platforms, landfills, etc;
Town halls, schools, health centers, nursing homes, etc;
Any building (check the Municipal Master Plan of your local authority for further clarification): 50 meters circumference, from the limits of the masonry, whenever these bands cover land or terrains with forest, grasslands or natural pastures;
Agglomerate of houses, campsites, recreational forest infrastructure, industrial parks, logistical platforms and landfills: 100 meters circumference;
Access roads: 10 meters on each side;
Railways, transmission lines of electricity of high tension: 10 meters on each side and transmission lines of electricity of medium tension: 7 meters on each side.
(The obligation falls on who has the jurisdiction over these equipment.)
WHO MUST COMPLY: - Land and property owners; - Forestry producers; - Tenants; - Land management;
WHAT ARE THE FINES FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT COMPLY? - Single taxpayer: from € 140 to € 5000 - Collective taxpayer: € 800 to € 60.000
OTHER PREVENTIVE RECOMMENDATIONS
Like we mentioned before, prevention is key and the little things can make a lot of difference.
At home, keep flammable materials in safe spaces and away from children and store firewood, fuel and other flammable products in a safe place.
In wooded areas, parks, forest, gardens, picnic areas, etc do not make fires, do not smoke and of course do not litter and keep your litter stored in bags or containers for this purpose.
If you’re on the road, do not throw cigarette butts out of the car and put your car's ashtray into use.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IN CASE OF A FIRE? If you are ...
... in a WOODED AREA:
It’s important to keep your calm and do not panic;
If possible, try to leave the area in the opposite direction to the wind;
Do not run uphill as smoke and flames tend to rise;
Avoid going to places where there is a large accumulation of trees or flammable areas or in points located in the direction of the fire;
Look for an area with water, with little vegetation or areas already burned;
If you find yourself surrounded by fire, try to protect yourself from radiation by lying on the ground behind a large rock, log or land depression;
Protect your face with a wet cloth, as it makes breathing easier;
... AT HOME:
... IN A VEHICLE surrounded by wildfire:
For more information concerning fire prevention and protection during wildfires: Safe Communities Portugal
Track updates to high-risk areas using the Risk Level Map.
Check which fires are currently active on fogos.pt
View the gov.pt for the full textand list of restrictions.
Hope this article was helpful, any questions you might have feel free to contact us! We are always available at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need any assistance ;)