EXISTING LEGISLATION already obliges people to clear woodland at a 50-metre radius from their homes, according to Minister of Internal Administration, António Costa.
The minister was speaking at the end of a visit by a parliamentary delegation to the Serviço Nacional de Bombeiros e Protecção Civil (SNBPC), the national service of firemen and civil protection. “Current law already makes provision for forestry clearing. It envisages it, but it does not happen in practice,” he said, noting that the Director-General of Forestry Resources is responsible for implementation. Costa said that the existing law also outlines inspection and reporting procedures by the police and obliges local authorities to clear a 100-metre area surrounding villages. Costa stressed that 54 sources of aerial support were currently engaged in fighting fires and dismissed the possibility of implementing the National Emergency Plan, concluding that bombeiros now had the situation under control. But he reiterated President Sampaio’s appeal for employers to release volunteer bombeiros from their normal duties, conceding that people’s resistance is being stretched to the limit. Estimates put the area damaged by this year’s fires at 180,000 hectares, already 60,000 hectares higher than last year. In 2003, fires laid waste to 425,000 hectares, the biggest devastation for more than 20 years.