Fire prevention and verges/hedgerows

Dear Editor,

We are now at the time of year when publicity starts about the very real risk of fires and the preventative action that needs to be taken. We have been resident in the Algarve for many years and have had first-hand experience of both the danger and the damage.

Publicity regarding fire prevention comes via the Portuguese authorities but also from other organisations with an expat base or readership, including Safe Communities Algarve.

From our house on a hillside we have a panoramic view of the necessary ground clearance operations in our area, which have been underway in the past week or so. However, while it is early days, I would estimate that around 90% still remains to be done. Indeed, at least 20% of the area has not been done for years.

In a way, I am coming back on a topic which I have written about before. You may well know that there are a number of Portuguese state agencies who each have some level of responsibility for fire prevention so, therefore, there is both a need for, and actual, co-ordination between them.

However, in our experience, if issues and concerns arise about specific fire prevention issues, it is often necessary to undertake a time-consuming circuit between Civil Protection, Forestry (ICNF) and the GNR.

Sadly, the onus over co-ordination seems, on occasion, to lie with the concerned individuals rather than the agencies themselves. In the last year, we managed (through significant agency involvement) to get necessary ground clearance to adjoining land undertaken (albeit reluctantly) by the landowner but the subsequent gigantic piles of timber and brushwood are still there, almost a year later – the nearest approximately 20 metres from our boundary wall/house, well within the statutory limit of 50 metres. Therefore, while ground clearance is certainly critically important to prevent the expansion of any fires which may occur, there are, sadly, difficulties in achieving effective enforcement action.

In our case, the landowner, who lives elsewhere, clearly does not intend any further works and we have been unable to persuade the state agencies to undertake the necessary and, we would argue, legally enforceable action. It is now an impasse. We are not legally allowed to undertake works on land belonging to somebody else and nobody else is going to do it.

A separate but allied topic is the annual clearance of verges/hedgerows which is usually undertaken by the authorities in the spring/early summer. Apart from possible aesthetic concerns, there are both road safety issues (regarding vision) and fire prevention issues if undergrowth over a metre high is left in place on what can often be narrow country roads.

Dense/high vegetation can provide a bridge which would be eagerly accepted by a fire. The purpose of making this point is that, to date, little or no clearance activity has been undertaken in the central Algarve in 2016. Actually, in some areas it has not taken place for years!

A good example are the smaller roads between Ludo (just off the EN125 on the way to Faro), past the golf club to the back of Quinta do Lago. Bamboo thickets, on both sides of the road, now essentially create a tunnel. A high risk situation for fires, particularly as there are a number of isolated but substantial houses in this area.