“Where’s the money going?” Accounts Court slates councils’ fire prevention ‘plans’

Experts sound alert over risks pandemic poses for wildfires

Experts have sounded the alert over the risks the Covid-19 pandemic poses for wildfires in Portugal this year.

Explain reports, efforts to reduce ‘large numbers of people in any one space’ and promote physical distancing will have an impact on the capacity and indeed efficiency of combat teams, whether voluntary firefighters/ Civil Protection command posts, or even the pilots of firefighting planes.

Then there is the context of climate change – and the fact that vast tracts of national territory are still very susceptible to wildfires.

As if a pandemic wasn’t enough to deal with, the country still has to brace itself for a challenging fire season.

Says parliament’s Technical Independent Observatory, regional plans for forestry control (PROFs) still need to be followed: large areas of inflammable eucalyptus and pine are meant to be being ‘reforested’ with more fire retardant trees, like oaks. But of course with all authorities’ focused on preventing the spread of a rogue virus, these commitments are being allowed to fall behind.

The problem is that ‘time marches on’. Before we know it we will be slap inside the ‘high risk fire season’, and are we ready? The Observatory appears to think not.

It refers to fires of the recent past in Monchique (Algarve) and Vila de Rei (Castelo Branco) where nighttime intervention was “not very effective”.

Thus the call is for authorities to be aware – not to be taken by surprise by a wildfire season that comes round every year.

Specialised response teams, with their own powers of authority, are needed – and they need to be given maximum mobility, say the experts. In other words, they can’t be compromised because of all the rules governing Portugal’s ‘new normal’.

The Observatory’s final warning, highlighted by Rádio Renascença today, is simple: “It’s accepted that efficiency and efficiency in combat, particularly in more complex situations, depends heavily on the quality of intervention”.

Portugal needs to be ready – or the virus won’t be our only worry this summer.

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