Forest fires double in first six months of year

TWICE AS many fires have occurred in Portugal so far this year, compared to the average for the last four years, according to data from the Direcção-Geral dos Recursos Florestais (DGRF), the director general of forestry resources. Figures also reveal that, during the first half of the year, the number of fires was 70 per cent higher than in the same period last year. Brush fires have already destroyed more than three times the average annual loss between January and June. In total, there have already been 17,700 incidents since the beginning of the year,almost twice the average 9,500 incidents recorded over the previous four years. These figures place Portugal well ahead of other countries in terms of forest fires, even though the country’s total forestry area is four to five times smaller than that of Spain, Italy and France.

Other figures confirm Portugal’s reputation as a high fire risk zone. Statistics for the period between 1980 and 2002 point to 16,500 occurrences, well ahead of Spain at 14,800 incidents, the country occupying second place on the list. The first half of the year confirms this upward trend of forest fires. In February alone, there were six times as many fires compared to the same period over the previous four years. In March, there were three times as many fires. The only exception to the rule was in April when the number of fires was slightly below average.

The severe drought has exacerbated the situation, rendering the land parched and even more prone to violent fires. Authorities are warning that this year’s forest fire season could well last until October. Although recent, slightly cooler weather helped bombeiros to quell fires raging in the centre of the country, the lull in the heat is not expected to last. Higher temperatures are predicted for next week, leading authorities to fear a repeat of the 2003 summer wildfires, which left 20 people dead and more than 400,000 hectares of land destroyed.