Still from a film by Rádio Renascença on the Castro Marim fire that destroyed 9,000 hectares of agricultural land recently

“Unfavourable meteorological cocktail” raises Portugal’s fire risk to point of ‘zero tolerance’

With 80 Portuguese municipalities in 11 districts at ‘maximum risk of fire’ this week, Civil Protection is warning of an unfavourable meteorological cocktail that requires a ‘zero tolerance’ policy with regard to the use of fire.

No-one should be carrying out work with machinery in rural/ forestry settings until Thursday at the earliest.

Temperatures are expected to reach the 40ºs in the next few days. Districts most at risk are Braga, Porto, Viseu, Vila Real, Bragança, Guarda, Coimbra, Castelo Branco, Santarém, Portalegre and Faro. Many of these have large areas of forest land.

Giving a press conference at the headquarters of ANEPC (the national authority for emergency and civil protection) this morning, deputy director of operations Pedro Nunes said: “We are going to see during today and tomorrow a very significant increase in the meteorological danger for wildfires, with the greatest expression (of this danger) in the regions of the centre and north”.

Along with the ‘hot dry weather’, wind will add to the mix and there could even be some thunderstorms later this afternoon/ tomorrow.

Worst case scenario would be fires that “progress very rapidly, and rapidly exceed the capacity for combat by means on the ground”.

It was here that Pedro Nunes used the description ‘unfavourable meteorological cocktail’, which has led to authorities enforcing another of their ‘zero tolerance’ policies over potentially risky behaviours.

Particular emphasis has been put on people working with machinery in a rural or forest context.

Zero tolerance can also mean that people are advised against even walking in forest areas, but that up until this afternoon this has not been stressed.

For the time being, extra firefighting personnel have already been put ‘at the ready’ in the areas of Macedo de Cavaleiros, Vila Real, Castelo Branco and Loulé.

According to sea and atmosphere institute IPMA, the “meteorological danger should reduce very considerably from Thursday or Friday”, Nunes explained – at which point a return to agricultural work with machinery will be authorised.

Since midday last Friday, roughly 300 forest fires have been registered in Portugal – almost all of them dealt with very quickly.

A fire on Sunday afternoon in the Casais area of Monchique was brought under control within a matter of hours – though firefighters will remain on the ground watching for reignitions for some time still.

While arson has become ‘the bogeyman’ of every summer fire season in Portugal, wildfires are not always caused by arsonists. The Casais fire, for example, appears to have been caused by a bird flying into electricity cables.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com