A total of 113 million euros is to be spent in combating forest fires this summer, with two thirds of the government cash going towards prevention. This amount represents a record investment, according to Prime Minister Durão Barroso, who was speaking at a recent ceremony in Proença-a-Nova. “We are offering a clear increase in means available,” he said. “We have never invested so much in this area as we are now and Portugal has never been so well prepared to combat fires.”
Barroso also praised the way that different government ministries have worked together to plan for this summer. As if to emphasise this point, he was joined at the ceremony by the Minister of Agriculture, Sevinate Pinto, Internal Administration Minister, Figueiredo Lopes, Social Security Minister, Bagão Felix, Justice Minister Celeste Cardona, Environment Minister, Amílcar Theias, and Defence Minister Paulo Portas.
“No government can guarantee that there
will never be a new calamity”
The Prime Minister explained that this summer’s operation, which involves 13,000 people, “is the biggest mounted for some time, with more means, more people and greater co-ordination”. But, in spite of these assurances, he stressed “no government can guarantee that there will never be a new calamity. All I can do is guarantee that everyone is doing whatever they can.” Barroso also said the campaign against fires called for a spirit of national co-operation. “We have a new slogan – ‘Everyone together against fires’. We have to avoid mean-spirited squabbles. All hands are needed on deck in this great patriotic task,” he said.
Remembering the national shock waves caused by last summer’s fires, which devastated 423,000 hectares of forestry, Barroso reminded his audience that the country could now face fires with new “means and expertise that were unavailable decades ago”. Meanwhile, the Minister of Agriculture, Sevinate Pinto, commented that a large-scale reforestation process is underway and that vigilance patrols would be “40 times greater than last year”. The operation to combat the fires begins in June, but will only become fully operational in July. “We must wait for the conclusion of the Euro 2004 football tournament,” said the President of the National Fire and Civil Protection Service (SNPBC), Fernando Paiva Monteiro.
The strategy for fighting fires will be divided in two phases. The first will begin during June. Known as ‘Alfa Level’, it will involve 138 primary intervention groups, 32 support groups, 169 vehicles and two helicopters. The second will be from July 1 to 30 September, known as ‘White Level’, involving almost 4,000 men and more than four times as many fire fighters in the primary intervention squad.
Increased likelihood of fires in the future
Meanwhile, a rather more pessimistic picture was delivered to a seminar in Loulé by the vice-president of Loulé Câmara, José Graça. Speaking at the ‘Areas burned in the Algarve’ lecture, Graça declared that, in the event of a fire of great dimensions, “there is no prevention method whatsoever that can avoid disaster”. Although he said he believed preventative measures were of extreme importance, the vice-president said changes in “climactic conditions” increased the likelihood of fires in the future. Also speaking at the conference, the Regional Director of Agriculture said that his Ministry wants to create better support mechanisms for small producers, so that they could minimise losses in the event of fires. In spite of the promises undertaken by the government, many local authorities in the Algarve still consider the measures to be inadequate. As The Resident reported last week, the concelhos of Aljezur, Lagos and Vila do Bispo, have decided to come up with a fire prevention plan of their own – the Plano Intermunicipal de Intervenção na Floresta (Intermunicipal Forestry Intervention Plan – PIMIF) in a bid to protect the Algarve from further devastation.