Crackdown on arsonists

The Ministry for Agriculture is looking for new ways to control the movements of around 100 arsonists, suspected of being responsible for the deadly wave of fires that spread throughout the region last year.

Sevinate Pinto revealed that he is waiting for a response from the Justice Ministry about the possibility of spying on suspects as a way of reducing the risk of similar outbreaks this summer, saying: “We are working with the Justice Ministry and the Judicial Police in an attempt to define a better way to control suspected arsonists.”

The Minister said it was important to try to dissuade arsonists from causing forest fires through “persuasion” and “monitoring”. Other preventative measures are being introduced, including boosting the number of patrols carried out by the armed forces and increasing the number of firefighters available. Plans to clear public forest areas, increasing the current amount of lookout posts and limiting the number of people allowed to visit certain ‘sensitive’ zones, such as the Beira Interior and Guarda, are also in the pipeline. In addition, the authorities will be entitled to ask identification from anybody attempting to access these areas and, if necessary, will have the power to prohibit people from entering.

Pinto admits that one of the problems last year was the amount of time– an average of 43 minutes – between the detection of a fire and the intervention of the fire service. “This is an eternity when you bear in mind that 15 minutes is the maximum time in which to avoid a fire spreading out of control,” he admits.

The government has already begun replanting 281,000 hectares of forest ravaged by last summer’s fires and anticipates that between 35 and 60 per cent of the affected area will be reforested within two to three years, at an expense of between 150 and 200 million euros. But, Pinto concedes, “many of these measures will take years to have any effect”.