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Bombeiros on high alert this summer

ALTHOUGH FOREST fires have been raging all over Portugal recently, this summer the blazes seem to be concentrated in the north of the country.

Many have attributed the lack of uncontrollable fires in the Algarve to improved emergency response from the bombeiros, as well as increased funding allocated by the government to improve the quality of firefighting equipment.

This year’s fire action plan for the Algarve, known as Bravo, involves 119 bombeiros, 113 GNR officers and 13 experts from the Conservation of the Environment Institute, who have 42 vehicles at their disposal, as well as one helicopter. Many municipalities across the region have been implementing programmes of awareness about fire hazards and prevention.

At the beginning of this week, Estremoz, in the Alentejo, with the help of 186 bombeiros and 53 vehicles, battled against the elements to extinguish fierce fires that broke out in the area and restore order. The fires around Estremoz forced the closure of two main roads as high blazes spread across fields and traversed the roads. The government ordered the evacuation of at least 15 residents in the areas of Estremoz, Borba and Bencantel.

However, the worst forest fire cases have been recorded near Porto, in the north of Portugal. The area of Valongo has undoubtedly experienced the most intense fires, requiring 378 firefighters, 114 vehicles and a helicopter to control them. It took the bombeiros more than 24 hours at the beginning of this week to calm the flames, which reached 30 metres in height, with residents watching in despair as the inferno spread from neighbouring houses to their own.

A fire also broke out in Serra de Aire and Candeeiros Natural Park in Porto de Mós (district of Leiria), destroying 500 hectares of conservation land. Poor access hindered the fight to control the fire, but, eventually, with the help of 200 bombeiros, the flames were extinguished. Some firefighters remained in the area to ensure the fire was out completely and to prevent anyone from going near the scorched area.

On average, 28,210 forest fires break out each year across the country, destroying around 146,944 hectares of land. Last year, Portugal experienced the most forest fires in a decade, with 338,262 hectares of land affected. The Polícia Judiciária has arrested 17 men so far this year for arson, two of whom have previously been convicted of a similar crime.

The first week in August saw a staggering 1,807 fires in Portugal, 564 of which occurred last Sunday (August 6), requiring 2,000 vehicles and 7,524 bombeiros in total to extinguish them. The bombeiros have been placed on high alert in Portugal, as they expect the incidence of fires will rise at least until the weekend, as temperatures continue to rise.