REINFORCEMENTS ARE being granted by the Ministry for Internal Administration to increase the civil protection manpower available during the Algarve’s forest fire season. The region is one of five districts in Portugal that will be granted Grupos de Intervenção de Protecção e Socorro (GIPS) da GNR, intervention, protection and aid groups from the military police. A total of 60 men will be joining the district’s existing force.
The GIPS have the task of fighting fires through aerial means and especially those located in forests that were substantially damaged by the summer fires of 2003 and 2004. Last year’s damages were significantly less than those of the previous two years – 1,666 hectares burned in 2005 against 57,178 hectares in 2003 and 30,672 hectares in 2004. This, according to Faro Civil Governor, António Pina, was due to the reinforcements put in place last year and the increase in aerial means made available.
Also, this year, the Serviço Nacional de Bombeiros’ plane will be based permanently in Loulé, while the two helicopters made available to Tavira and Monchique last year will remain deployed there until the end of September.
As well as these aerial means, there are also Grupos de Apoio (GAP) support groups, comprising of two men and a water tanker, of which there are now 19 (against only one in 2004) and 30 Grupos de Primeira Intervenção (GPI) urgent intervention groups, which are composed of a total of 150 men (there were only 10 of these groups in 2004). Other resources that will be maintained this year include 17 Bombeiros corps, which together comprises a team of 1,552.
Despite the news of reinforcements, some believe that more manpower is still needed. Commandant José Faísca, responsible for operations in the Sotavento area, was recently quoted in a related article in the Correio da Manhã newspaper. “There is only the minimum resources in place capable of guaranteeing an immediate response, but, in the event of a major catastrophe, such as the one that occurred in Serra do Caldeirão two years ago, we would have to request outside help,” he said.
A Civil Protection Week is currently being staged at Forum Algarve shopping centre in Faro, continuing until May 7. Dozens of vintage firefighting vehicles are on display dating back to the early 1900s, with the objective of raising awareness among the public concerning emergency procedures and to highlight the problem of fires.