Wildfires burn 106,500 hectares in Portugal by end August
Fires during the height of this summer. Image: Mário Cruz/ Lusa

Wildfires burn 106,500 hectares in Portugal by end August

Fourth highest rate of devastation in last decade

By August 31 this year, forest fires in Portugal had consumed a little over 106,500 hectares. This is the 4th highest level of devastation in the last decade, reports ICNF (the institute for nature conservation and forests).

In total since the start of the year to the end of last month, there were 9,701 rural fires.

“Comparing the figures for 2022 with those of the previous 10 years, it is noted that there were 15% less rural fires and 36% more burnt areas than the annual average for the last 10 years,” states the ICNF report.

By the end of August, 2022 had the sixth highest number of fires and the fourth highest number of burnt areas since 2012.

Provisional data shows that the years with the most burnt areas in the last decade, up until August 31, were 2017 (236,485 hectares), 2013 (130,393) and 2016 (128,515).

In turn, the years with the highest number of fires were 2012 (19,071), 2013 (16,114), 2015 (16,034), 2017 (14,344) and 2016 (10,942).

According to the report, the largest number of fires broke out in the districts of Porto (2,294), Braga (1,066) and Vila Real (830) and were “mostly small” not exceeding one hectare of burnt area. But the district most affected in terms of burnt areas was Guarda with 24,773 hectares, representing more than 23% of the total area burnt nationally until August 31.

Anyone tracking wildfires through the summer months will have noticed the strange grouping of outbreaks, all of them centring on the north and central areas. This year, fires in the Algarve, certainly up until now, have been few and far between (albeit July 13 was a complete disaster).

Other districts with large amounts of burnt areas were Vila Real, with 24.105 hectares (around 23% of the total), and Leiria, with 10.069 hectares (9% of the total).

The ICNF report reiterates that this year’s worst affected municipalities were Guarda, Manteigas, Covilhã, Vila Real and Ourém.

But it also showed that fires with a burnt area of less than one hectare have been the most frequent – representing 82% of all rural fires and up until August 31, while 16 large fires registered burnt areas of 1,000 hectares or more.

The biggest fire to date began on August 6 in the municipality of Covilhã, reaching the Serra da Estrela and remaining active for 11 days – consuming 24,334 hectares of forest. 

The second largest wildfire was in the municipality of Murça (Vila Real) in July, consuming 7,184 hectares.

According to the document, July was the month with the greatest number of rural fires, (2,745), which corresponds to 28% of the total number registered this year. It was also the month with the greatest burnt areas – 49,888 hectares, or 47% of the eight month total.

The ICNF report also refers that the actual burnt area figure (106.639 ha) being 69% of the “weighted burnt area” – meaning the devastation of 2022 was, in the compilers’ viewpoint, lower than expected “considering the meteorological severity (high temperatures, strong wind, lack of precipitation and low relative humidity)”.

The government doesn’t let go of this point, but it has caused great affront in local communities worst affected by wildfires this summer.

Source: LUSA