On March 1, 2023, we at Safe Communities Portugal celebrated International Civil Protection Day by participating in a number of national events.
Whereas the national celebration has previously been held in Lisbon each year, it has now been decided that it should be held in different regions in the country and, for this year, the Algarve was chosen.
This was, in my view, a good decision as it enabled many members of the public to see the vast display of civil protection “hardware”, displayed by various civil protection agents including Bombeiros, GNR and ICNF. There was also an earthquake and tsunami exercise held in the morning, in which we participated as a Civil Protection Voluntary Organisation.
To my mind, this was an appropriate way to celebrate civil protection day, through testing the decision-making and processes in the management of a major disaster and afterwards, displaying the resources and equipment that would be used to carry out the recovery work should a major earthquake take place.
Whereas this tested and showed the role of government in this type of situation and the fantastic work they are undertaking, we must remember that keeping the population safe is a collective effort, involving all of us as citizens – and in this respect, I am referring in this feature to wildfires.
With increasing episodes of extreme weather, it is essential that we understand the risks to our homes in the event of wildfire, which will certainly happen this year.
We do not know precisely when or where fires will occur, but those living in rural areas, particularly high-risk areas, should be prepared. Now is the time to start taking action to protect your property.
What has changed since last year?
In terms of land-cleaning, there have been no changes in the law compared to last year. This year, we expect the annual publication of the list of high-risk fire areas very shortly. Some parishes will have been added and others taken away, depending on the conditions in the areas concerned.
What should residents now do?
Firstly, we suggest studying the Top 10 Checklist, which we advise you cut out and keep handy.
Regarding neighbouring land which is overgrown and in the event of non-compliance, report this to the GNR as soon as possible. All complaints, where verified as a fire risk, are acted up on a priority basis. So do not delay. This is an issue which can cause problems, especially if the owner does not live there.
If it is not cleaned, you should report to the GNR. By May 31, 2021, city councils must guarantee the performance of all fuel-management works, and must replace the owners and other forest producers in default, proceeding with the fuel management provided for by law.
High-risk fire areas
These are identified each year as priority parishes for the purposes of monitoring fuel management (land cleaning). The law (Despacho n.º3369/2022), which was passed on March 22, 2022 by the Assembly of the Republic, listed 1001 parishes and is still in effect, but this will be updated later this month.
The deadline for cleaning land is April 30. Before then, the cleaning of lands adjacent to buildings (i.e., in a range of 50 metres); and for clusters and industrial areas (in a range of 100 metres) must be carried out for those living in rural areas.
A dedicated line for information on matters such as land cleaning and all issues concerning protection measures is 808 200 520. Use this also for registering to burn debris, or contact your local Câmara or register online through www.icnf.pt
When it comes to enforcement, this will be based on common sense and much of this will be focused at the priority areas identified. The GNR began, on February 16, the monitoring and awareness phase to prevent risk behaviour and raise fuel-management awareness in order to ensure the safety of the population, which will last until April 26. Enforcement will follow on from this.
Burning land and debris
Over half the fires in 2022 were caused by burning of debris and extensive burning getting out of control. Many people clean their land by burning stubble (extensive burns) or by burning heaped and piled debris. As the uncontrolled use of this last year caused over half of the total fires, it is important to register with ICNF (where you can obtain assistance), and if you are doing this yourself, follow the important safety measures.
How you can help
We all need to do our part, by sharing these important messages, reporting overgrown neighbouring land and, of course, keeping our own land in order. In this way, it will not only protect our property but also help all the civil protection agents involved in fighting fires.
Please share the safety information from our Safe Communities Portugal Facebook page so it reaches the widest audience. Detailed information can be downloaded from the Safe Communities Portugal website (Civil Protection/Rural Fires/Land Cleaning).
David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal.
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