Last year’s fires, which devastated large tracts of the Algarve, were the worst in the last 20 years. But in spite of this, as we’ve reported, the government considers that the region does not present a particularly elevated fire risk this summer. Now some of the region’s most concerned local authorities have decided to unveil a new joint fire prevention strategy.
Local politicians have been disgusted by the lack of government support and say that the Algarve cannot be neglected. They pointed out that there is a risk of last year’s tragedy repeating itself and that, aside from helicopter support, authorities still do not know what means they can count on from central government. So the concelhos of Aljezur, Lagos and Vila do Bispo have decided to come up with a fire prevention plan of their own – the Plano Intermunicipal de Intervenção na Floresta (Intermunicipal Forestry Intervention Plan – PIMIF).
Câmara officals are also particularly mindful of the fact, that devastating though last summer’s fires were, that there was still a large area (around 20,000 hectares), that did not burn at all – in other words, there is another potential disaster waiting to happen.
The government’s ‘risk evaluation’ of the country only characterises the Algarve as a ‘low-risk’ region in terms of fire threats. The Director-General of Forests, António Macedo, elaborated on this view during the presentation of the PIMIF plan. The study, undertaken by the Director-General, examined incidents of fires in the last 10 years in all the regions of the country and concluded that, among the 16 Algarve municipalities, only the Monchique area represents a serious fire risk. This ‘risk assessment’ forms the basis of the government’s decision not to despatch troops to the Algarve forests.
Assistant to the Prime Minister, José Luis Arnaut, has explained this decision: “The Algarve does not have the effective military contingents to fulfil this function.” Nevertheless, in the face of concerted pressure levied by Algarve authorities, the government has modified its position somewhat, with an assurance from Macedo that the Beja barracks will provide cover in the Algarve, as well as in the Alentejo.
António Macedo has also promised that the government will create 40 new teams of forest fire-fighters by the end of May on a national level, but it still not known how many of these will be despatched to the Algarve.
This news has spurred on local authorities to act independently. The President of Aljezur Câmara, Manuel Marreiros, has stressed that the ‘risk evaluation’ document discriminates against the south and downplays the vulnerability of the area by describing it as low risk. “It is evident that the study has not taken into consideration that the fires in the Algarve destroy all the economy in the region, apart from nature as well. In the north of the country the region only has to put up with damaged forests.”
Aljezur, Lagos and Vila do Bispo’s PIMIF plan envisages a substantial increase in investment against fire fighting. The objectives of the plan, in the short term, are to “drastically reduce the area burned in the next four years” and, in the long term, “to promote the creation of forestry adapted to current society and future generations”.
The proposal envisages a substantial increase in funding over the next four years, boosting spending from 740,000 euros to more than four million euros. The initiative will also create 240 new jobs.