Image taken during the fires in Serra da Estrela last summer
Image taken during the fires in Serra da Estrela last summer: Image: NUNO ANDRÉ FERREIRA/LUSA

Civil defence association warns of ‘diversion of (precious) resources’ during critical fire season

Resources to be transferred to protection of Catholic World Youth Day event

Portugal’s Civil Protection Association (APROSOC) has said that the “diversion of resources” to provide backup for World Youth Day (WYD), the Roman Catholic event taking place in Lisbon during the early days of August, will cause constraints in fighting rural fires at a critical point in the firefighting calendar.

In a statement, the association says it is convinced that the provision of civil defence teams for the event will impact negatively on fire prevention and firefighting, not to mention response to any accidents that may happen. 

“The reinforcement of that event with mobile stations of the SIRESP network (Integrated System of Emergency and Safety Networks of Portugal) withdraws means from the theatres of operations that occur during the week before, during and after the World Youth Day – situations which, despite the reinforcement of the European Civil Protection Mechanism, can cause serious constraints to relief operations,” said the statement, signed by APROSOC president João Paulo Saraiva.

Although the association believes that the National Authority for Emergency and Civil Protection (ANEPC) and other entities involved will “do their best to minimise the dire consequences of this diversion of resources“, it fears “that the current planning, even extemporaneous, is unable to avoid serious constraints that should be taken care of.”

The civil defence provision for WYD could involve as many as 25,000 firefighters – as well as 2,000 agents from other forces.

Prime minister António Costa has stressed the firefighters “are to be withdrawn from voluntary fire brigades.

“The reinforcement of resources is being prepared,” he told reporters recently. “There is a first structure that is already programmed, planned and funded to be able to act.”

The PM’s perception was that the national civil protection authority has prepared “a discrete provision for WYD that will carry out its mission with enough discretion not to cause panic.” Should it be necessary to use more resources, it has already received guarantees both in terms of funding and of forces.

According to Costa, the funding from the government has a base of about €500,000 but this “is only an indicative budget, which is not closed, nor is it the final one.”

WYD is to take place between August 1 – 6, coinciding with the most critical time for rural fires at a time when the country is in almost 90% drought. 

Meantime, the traditional months for Portugal’s critical fire season have begun: June to September have always been the months where most ‘means’ are made available. But this year, the Air Force has said it is starting June  20 planes/ helicopters light. Instead of the 72 aircraft that should be available for what is known as DECIR (the special rural firefighting force), the month began with only 52. A source for the Portuguese Air Force however has said further planes and helicopters should start coming on board through this month.

Source: LUSA/ Correio da Manhã