The Algarve is not unique in experiencing devastating wildfires in native vegetation. This is a natural part of living in a Mediterranean ecosystem. I am not going to deal with the totally unnatural industrial monocultures of commercial eucalyptus plantations. Anyone living near these wrongly named ´forests´ should already be well aware of the dangers they pose.
It is possible to manage homes and gardens and significantly reduce damage by careful choice of plants. Through zoning the garden into areas with less combustible material, it is possible to live close to nature and survive a wildfire. Examples from other similar climate zones can be a useful guide and there is a lot of information available on the internet. However, suggested plant lists should be treated with some caution as the range of plants suitable for fire resistant landscaping for Algarve gardens is special to our area.
There is much controversy in Portugal about government legislation on ´cleaning´ for fire prevention. The rules are a very blunt instrument and we know of people who have been fined for not cleaning – and also people who have been fined for carrying out brutal vandalism in environmentally sensitive areas in the name of ´cleaning´. It can be a charter for anyone looking to remove inconvenient vegetation to literally clear the way for development. As Portugal is experiencing massive desertification, and is still in severe drought, any removal of vegetation will only serve to increase ground temperatures, promote erosion and make matters much worse.
Anyone with a garden or land under their care can and should consider making their own survey for fire prevention measures. This does not necessarily mean getting in the chain saw merchants! Some pointers below:
■ Firstly, concentrate your survey on the immediate area around the house. Check your access to water, remove any firewood heaps, and remove accumulated thick stands of dead plant material close to the house. Do not forget to check gutters and roof tiles for accumulated leaves, twigs etc.
■ Is your home on a slope? Fires naturally move up a slope, drying the material in front, so that it burns more strongly than in lower ground. Pay attention to slowing or retarding fires which come up a slope, perhaps by planting a band of large succulents.
■ A sensible approach to trees includes checking all those within 10m to 15m of the house. Carry out pruning of any branches touching other trees, or in contact with ground vegetation – this is called lifting the crown of the tree. Trees which naturally grow taller are best for this. Do not remove native hardwoods, they have proved to be protective of homes and gardens and the fire moves on around them.
■ Remember that even if your own property is not threatened, fires around you can remove your electricity supply and power for pumping water will be lost. If you can, store water in covered cisterns; it may then be possible to access water by gravity feed or with a generator.
■ Any irrigation pipes laid onto or just under the soil will be lost during a fire. They cannot be used to soak ground to prevent ignition from falling ash onto combustible materials such as pine bark mulch. Use stone or gravel mulches where possible to reduce fire spread.
■ If you wish to have professional help with pruning trees, try to find a recommended tree surgeon.
A selection of plants for your fire resistant areas:
■ Large growing ground cover succulents such as agaves, aloes (Aloe vera does well here), euphorbias, aeoniums, graptopetalum, crassulas, lampranthus, senecios, opuntia and portulacaria. Plant closely together, particularly on slopes and around trees. (How to use Succulents as a Fire Break https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrP2h2li8ps)
■ Trees such as oaks, arbutus, carob, sweet chestnut, fig, mulberry and Italian cypress trees can be planted in lines or groups. (Top Ten fire resistant trees for Mediterranean climates http://www.mediterraneanpermaculture.com/top-10-essential-mediterranean-fire-resistant-trees/)
If you are making plans for changes in your garden in the coming autumn and winter months, include fire resistant plants that can help your home and garden survive long into the future.
With thanks to, and more info, from Jardimseco (https://www.paisotec.com/jardimseco.html) and Debra Lee Baldwin (https://debraleebaldwin.com/firewise-landscaping-with-succulents / https://debraleebaldwin.com/top-five-firewise-succulents/)
By Rosie Peddle