By: Cecília Pires
EXPATRIATES should not worry themselves about summer fires because they are too far away from the danger areas, said a government minister who was in the region to reveal this year’s fire-fighting strategy.
António Costa, Portugal’s Minister for Internal Administration, told The Resident after Sunday’s presentation: “Expatriates living in Portugal are too far away from the fire line, so let’s not get them concerned.”
But his message for Portuguese property owners was at odds with this advice. They, he said, should actively participate with the government to keep the country free from fires this summer.
The mixed message will leave thousands of expatriates living in the Algarve curious to know what authorities are actually planning to do to protect property and lives.
The minister was speaking to an audience of hundreds, including dozens of men and women from several fire fighting departments in the region, at Avenida dos Descobrimentos in Albufeira.
“Local authorities have already been advised to start immediately surveillance in the region’s forests.” As a result, people living in those areas might be visited by GNR patrols, specially trained to ensure that fire protection legislation is being adhered to.
António Pina, Civil Governor of Faro, opened the event with a report on last year’s success story against forest fires, which resulted in the loss of just 200 acres of forest in the Algarve.
This was, he said, a surprisingly low figure in a region with more than 5,000 square kilometres, where the pressure to build new developments is huge and the forests have suffered a long period of neglect. He hoped that the 2007 fire fighting strategy, which included many improvements, would help eradicate fires from the region.
The reduction in areas damaged by fire last year was, he said, due to the efforts and investments made by local and central authorities.
“Fire fighters are now more enthusiastic, there are more of them and they are better equipped,” he said. “Now we all believe we can win.”
As a result of the 2007 plan, the people of the Algarve can expect more aerial firefighting, with the purchase of new aircraft to cover the whole country, as well as a better trained and distributed network of fire-fighters, involving numerous departments of the national security services.
Resources for this year’s action plan comprise 8,717 men and women plus 1,973 vehicles. The fire departments that will put the plan into action are the Grupo de Intervenção de Protecção e Socorro (GIPs, the first intervention and protection groups), the Serviço de Protecção da Natureza (SEPNA, a special GNR group for protection of the environment), professional forest fire-fighters, the PSP, the GNR, the Army, a team from the Instituto de Conservação da Natureza (ICN, the institute for protection of the environment), as well as the AFOCELCA force, which represents the main wood and cellulose producers in the country (Soporcel group, Celbi group and Caima company). These resources will be spread across the country where the threat is greatest.
Finally, António Costa reminded everyone of the main objective of this year’s campaign: “A Portugal without fires depends on all of us.”
Do you have a view on this story? Email: [email protected]