Flames from the fire which started in Odemira in August came dangerously close to the town of Odeceixe (Photo: CM Aljezur)

Algarve’s burnt area in 2023 “much lower than expected”

The area destroyed by wildfires in the Algarve so far this year, around 2,800 hectares (ha), is “much lower” than expected, the regional Emergency and Civil Protection commander said.

“It’s a positive year. Within what was expected, we had a very positive year, well below the area that was expected to be affected,  which is due to the efforts of all the Civil Protection officers and forces that make up the system,” said Vítor Vaz Pinto, on the sidelines of the presentation of the balance of the strategic system for fighting rural fires in the Algarve.

The results are even more impressive in a year that was “particularly demanding from a meteorological point of view”, with high temperatures, lower than normal rainfall and all the municipalities in severe or extreme drought.

The burnt area for the region based on this meteorological severity “pointed to 17,800 hectares”, but in reality it was “considerably lower”, said the regional commander of the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority (ANEPC).

Only 16% of this expected area was affected, that is, just over 2,700 ha [2789.21 ha]. It’s actually very significant and here you can see the work that was done by all the forces in the system,” emphasised Vítor Vaz Pinto.

Between January 1 and October 31, there were 269 fires that started in the region.

Compared to the previous 10 years, in 2023 there were 16% fewer rural fires and 44% less burnt area than the annual average for that period.

Compared to last year, these figures indicate a 28% increase in the number of fires and a 62% reduction in the total area burnt.

On the other hand, the fire that broke out in August in the Baiona area, Odemira municipality, Beja district, whose burnt area was over 7,500 ha, also affected the Algarve municipalities of Aljezur (1,635.85 ha) and Monchique (363.59 ha).

Of the 269 fires that broke out in the region, 259 were contained in the initial phase, before reaching 90 minutes from the time of the alert, and there were average response times of 50 seconds, “well below” the maximum time of two minutes set for the whole of mainland Portugal.

In 2023, fires with a burnt area of less than one hectare were the most frequent in the Algarve, accounting for 94% of the total, and there were only three fires with a burnt area of more than 100 ha.

The investigation into all the fires allowed 161 to be attributed a cause, the most frequent being misuse of fire (36% of the 269), accidental (14%) and arson (10%).

The ANEPC regional commander also highlighted the “substantial increase” in false alarms, which mostly correspond to authorised burning and accounted for 51.6% of the 556 incidents between 1 January and 31 October.

The fact that there are a lot of false alarms doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily negative. It means that the public is more aware of these situations and naturally triggers the alarm. […] I think it’s a good thing that people activate the system and don’t wait around. It’s better to call 112, even if other people have done so, but it’s always better to communicate. The sooner the alert arrives, the more likely it is that the fire will be put out,” said Vítor Vaz Pinto.

Source: LUSA