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Monchique wants to become “pilot project” for national plan on forest fire prevention

Forever pushing boundaries, Monchique’s mayor Rui André is forging ahead with a plan that he hopes could turn Monchique into a pilot-project for forestry fire prevention.

Days after the last of the devastating fires that raged across his borough for over a week were declared extinguished, André is wasting no time.

Posting on his widely-followed Facebook page, he explains: “After huge investment and significant advances when it comes to vigilance and combat – and even with all the work done in adopting preventive measure and making people aware how to save their homes – what is missing now is a recognised set of measures for structural prevention and organisation of rural spaces, particularly the forest”.

This set of measures has to be “coordinated by those who are closest to the people and their problems”, he adds.

Picking up the story, regional websites explain André plans to take his initiative all the way to the top.

Prime minister António Costa could signal the way ahead for the rural borough that has been so often scarred by raging wildfires to be made “a pilot-project on a national level for the structural prevention of forest fires”.

As André mentioned in a brief moment of respite between the fires when he arranged a ‘day for the press’ to hear from civil protection on the extent of the fires and how they rolled out, he wants to create a plan that includes hunting associations, forestry producers, local people and any number of other entities in order to “involve the whole community in problems that are everyone’s”.

But since this announcement, he has decided to go even further, says Sulinformação.

Next on the list is a ‘forestry observatory’ to unite university researchers and other bodies “connected to the forest, environment and conservation of Nature”.

The Municipal Forestry Plan would thus bring together everything that is being done in the forest.

“We want to know what is being planted, what is being cut and when, what machines are going to be used, whether they are dangerous, etc. etc”, André told Sulinformação.

“We want to know everything in order to monitor the borough’s space”, he added, stressing it had nothing to do with any form of money-making.

Another key part of the plan is to “promote a network of water and fuel supply points, and make populations aware of them, perhaps through the creation of ZIF (forestry intervention zones)”.

As vice-president of AMAL (the association of 16 Algarve councils), André is already working with the government to “decentralise” certain powers in the areas of health, education and social issues.

“We need to get new powers over our forests”, he said. Powers that could extend to blocking the over-planting of fire-quickening eucalyptus, and which would allow the borough to identify land that has fallen into abandon, to ensure that too doesn’t increase the mountain’s fire risks.

There is “a lot of work ahead”, André agrees – but he is anxious to get started. And judging by the comments on his Facebook page, he has a whole community of people right behind him.

Says one of his constituents: “You are always surprising us. Never looking for political excuses, always two steps ahead. Thank you for making a difference by being different”.

PHOTO: A moment for celebration in 2013, Rui André enjoys a ride in a 1941 fire fighting Cadilac with the “prettiest firewomen” during the 80th anniversary celebrations of Monchique’s firefighting brigade