SINCE 1980, fire has destroyed the equivalent of nearly half the country’s forests – around 30 per cent of Portugal’s land – reveal statistics recently released by the Direcção-Geral dos Recursos Florestais (DGRF), the central forestry bureau.
Forest land occupies 3.349 billion hectares of Portugal and, over the last 25 years, fires have consumed 1.459 billion hectares of forest – this is without counting the 1.249 billion hectares of brush land that has also burned over the same period.
The total area destroyed by flames totals 2.708 billion hectares, corresponding to 27.9 per cent of Portugal’s land area, which equates to 9.214 billion hectares. The numbers, however, fail to illustrate the real level of devastation in rural areas.
The abandonment by the population of those areas, the disorganisation and lack of cleaning of the forests, insufficient and ineffective preventative measures promoted by the state and which must be implemented by the citizens are the main reasons specialists are suggesting to explain why the fires in Portugal have reached such a significant dimension.
The police believe that half of the forest fires that burn each year are due to human negligence and between 25 and 30 per cent can be attributed to criminal intent.
According to DGRF statistics, since 1980, the number of fires has increased dramatically, with only 2,349 being recorded in that year against 21,870 in 2004.
The year 2003 was the worse year ever, with a total of 425,716 hectares burned and 400 million euros in damages.
Forest, which occupies 38 per cent of the country, is made up of the following: pine trees (31 per cent), eucalyptus (21 per cent) and cork (23 per cent).
Worst in Southern Europe
A report just published by the European Commission has revealed that 37 per cent of the area burned in forest fires in the south of Europe last year can be attributed to Portugal. The report shows that Portugal is the country that has registered the largest number of fires and that has had the least success in combating them.
Meanwhile, last year, it has been revealed that the areas burned in forest fires in Spain, France, Greece and Italy were lower than the annual average over the 25-year study period. Portugal was the only Member State where the fires consumed more forest than the annual average since 1980.
The heat returns
Over this past week, air temperatures have increased once again with central and southern Portugal being worst affected, as well as the interior, increasing the risks of forest fires.
Santarém, near Lisbon, is experiencing the highest temperatures, while Faro and Guarda have been recorded as being the coolest areas. However, Portugal’s meteorological institute is predicting an increase in temperatures in the north and central Portugal.
Bragança has been highlighted by the Agência para a Prevenção de Incêndios Florestais, the forest fire prevention agency, as the area to have the highest risk of fire. For Vila Real and Guarda, the risk is considered to be very high, while Viana do Castelo, Braga, Porto, Aveiro, Viseu, Coimbra and Leiria are classified as high. Castelo Branco is the only area in which the risk of forest fires is considered to be moderate. For the rest of the country’s districts – Santarém, Portalegre, Lisbon, Évora, Setúbal, Beja and Faro – the forecast issued by the forest fire prevention agency is reduced.
Military combat flames
In total, 451 soldiers are involved in forest fire prevention. So far, they have detected 148 outbreaks and participated in 45 emergency firefighting situations. In the period between July 1 and August 9, the military made 320 patrols on foot, 1,000 patrols in vehicles and 160 on horseback.