You will probably have guessed it, but this month has experienced the highest temperatures for May since records began, with temperatures reaching 40 C in Beja. This coupled with high winds has provided the conditions that have resulted in the fire risk being raised to "very high" or "extreme" in many parts of the country.
You may have noticed that I did not say that the weather conditions have "resulted" or "caused" the fires, as in reality most fires are caused by human negligence and some deliberately. Some of the worst fires this year have resulted from pasture burning which has taken place illegally and has got out of control.
To put the forest fire situation in perspective; over the last 30 years there have been an average of 18,613 fires per year burning an average of 108,334 hectares per year, approximately half the size of Luxemburg.
Last year thankfully was a cooler and wetter year resulting in fewer fires than the previous year; certainly far fewer than in 2012 when there was extensive damage caused by forest fires in the eastern Algarve. During 2012 there were 30,740 fires in Portugal including 772 in the Algarve, although this decreased to 11,387 and 446 respectively in 2014.
However all indications are that this year we will have a drier summer with higher temperatures. The fire services have warned that since the beginning of the year up to mid May there had been a total of 4320 fires compared to 846 for the same period
last year, so this year could potentially be one of the worst years for forest fires.In fact current forecasts are that the majority of the Algarve will be at very high risk and Monchique at maximum on 28th May.
In particular during the last two weeks (11th to 24th May 2015) there have been 785 recorded fire incidents requiring the deployment of 10,930 fire fighters and support staff, and 3117 vehicles used, plus 74 air borne missions flown. This is a huge resource for any country and places the lives of the brave fire fighters at risk.
Details about Civil Protection and the different entities in Portugal involved in dealing with emergencies can be found on Safe Communities Algarve's
Civil Protection page.
This newsletter also updates the one on this subject published in May 2014.
I have divided the newsletter into two parts, the first reporting on news concerning wildfires and related news and the second concerning preventative steps we can all take concerning this important subject. For up to date news please visit our
which shows all the news since our last newsletter.
Our new website Safe Communities Portugal, to be published soon, will have an expanded area dealing with Civil Protection including Forest fire prevention.
WRC Rally Portugal's opening afternoon stage cancelled due to forest fires
It was reported on 22nd May 2015 that Rally Portugal's opening afternoon stage had been cancelled due to fires on the 17-mile test.
Ponte de Lima, which was due to be run as the second and fifth stages of the day, was cancelled this morning around halfway through, when organisers deemed the stage unsafe to continue.
Most of the World Rally Championship contingent had already set a time.
Organisers had hoped the closure of this part of the route, the SS2, would allow enough time to prepare it for action that afternoon, however concerns about increasing winds potentially causing the fire to spread led to the fire department to insist that the afternoon stage be cancelled.
A huge effort from emergency services overnight to battle the blazes - over 100 fire fighters were reportedly on the scene - meant the stage could go ahead that morning.
Two ministers, Aguiar-Branco and Asuncion Ridges, were on Friday 22nd May 2015, in Vagos to witness the signing of a protocol with the Army, valued at one million euros, for the prevention of forest fires.
Ministers pledge to do more to prevent forest fires
In the document, signed with the Institute of Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), the Army is committed in 2015 to open another 350 kilometers of the primary network of firebreaks and to perform 1500 hours of surveillance in national forests. It is to renew the Plan "fauns" through which the military engineering is set to create a network of access routes in forests to gain access and contain forest fires.
In 2014 there were 250 kilometers opened and this year will be more;, "a very great effort by the Army, "according to Minister of Agriculture and Sea, who highlighted the fact that the branch of the armed forces" will be attentive and available to help defend the territory. "A small step, if taking into account that the primary network is planned to extend to 11,500 kilometers, but as Rui Almeida of the ICNF said, "is a process that will take decades and will need to be done gradually." Asuncion Ridges preferred to look at what is already being done in state forests, stressing that the primary network now covers 25% of what is planned.
Minister approves protocol for creating new buildings CDOS and BAL in Loul?
On 17th May 2015, the Minister of Internal Affairs was in Quarteira to ratify two protocols which are of particular importance for the Municipality of Loul? and the Algarve region: the construction of the District Command of Faro Relief Operations (CDOS) for the ANPC (Civil Protection Authority) and the construction of the Logistics Support Base Loul? (BAL).
The new building of Civil Protection will be located next to Fire Headquarters of Loul?, benefiting from a centrality with access to the main communication routes of the Algarve. "The location of the future Command, away from the urban, along an arterial route will achieve greater efficiency, being next to the Permanent Helicopter Base (opened by the Minister of Interior on 14th April) and Fire Department, "said the president of the National Civil Protection Authority, Francisco Pereira. This work has an estimated cost of 1.25 million euros.
Regarding the BAL of Loul?, one of five planned across the country, the facilities will be located in front of the Cemetery of Quarteira, transforming a building which is currently a rubble.
This logistic unit will support and direct support for protection and relief operations, serving the entire region. The new headquarters of CDOS and BAL integrate the Relief Operations District Command, and also other facilities such as barracks of the Fire Department and Special Force, the Centers for Air Media, and the Logistics Support of the Logistics Bases and Reserve units.
Three forest sapper teams of the Association of Municipalities Terras do Infante (Aljezur, Lagos and Vila do Bispo), have lost the financial support of the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF). This has meant that they have been unable communicate to the District Centre of Relief Operations ( CDOS) and the GNR in respect of surveillance.
Reports of cuts by ICNF effect surveillence
The fifteen members of the sapper teams are monitoring an area of over 60,000 hectares of forest, between the municipalities Lagos, Vila do Bispo and Aljezur.
In March 2014, the ICNF had approved a grant of 70,000 euros for the operation of sapper teams of the Association of Municipalities Terras do Infante. When it was learned that they had been awarded permanent employment contracts, replacing the previous precarious fixed-term contracts, the ICNF canceled the previously approved financial support.
After this decision, the association of municipalities chose to remove the Special Device teams fighting forest fires this summer. "Since there is no payment by the ICNF, teams are being coordinated by the municipality and do not have to report their work to anyone," said the CM Paulo Jorge, Civil Protection Councillor of the Lagos Chamber and sapper team coordinator Lagos.
Contractual delays for large helicopter maintenance to fight forest fires
The ANPC have stated that the five Kamov helicopters are planned to be fully operational for 1st July, the start date of the critical fire period for forest fires. Currently of the five, three are fully operational, but there are two awaiting maintenance. In addition there are are six light helicopters, locat
ed in Guarda, Castelo Branco, Monchique, Aveiro, Braga and Porto to fight forest fires in those areas.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Anabela Rodrigues, confirmed last Saturday in Alij?, that the two Kamov helicopters which have problems in the engines were replaced by four light helicopters. The minister, who was speaking at the inauguration of the headquarters of Alij? fire district Vila Real, reiterated that the other three Kamov helicopters "are available to act if necessary." In addition the Government is awaiting the arrival of four fixed wing aircraft to fight fires.
Minister approved protocol for creating new buildings CDOS and BAL in Loul?
It is reported that Leiria region have requested video surveillance as part of the forest fire warning system at a cost of around 450,000 euros. The Intermunicipal Community of Leiria Region (CIMRL) will apply under the next Community Support Framework, for a project to install a video surveillance system in the forest of the ten municipalities. This is considered a "plus" in the prevention of fires.
Leiria region planning video surveillance as part of the Forest Fire warning system
"As the forest is a priority area for this territory; it makes sense to invest in the prevention of forest fires and video surveillance, which is surely an added advantage as it relates to prevention," said the President of Castanheira Chamber, Fernando Lopes, who is in charge of the working group of the forest and civil protection in CIMRL.
The video surveillance system and automatic detection of fires as a support component includes the installation of nine towers of video surveillance spread over several municipalities of CIMRL.
Security forces have fined in a year, 2,732 owners for for failing to clean forest land, leading to total fines of 224,000 euros, according to data released by the the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Over 2700 land owners fined for failing to clean land
Since May 2014 the General Secretariat of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MAI) has become responsible for processing the administrative offences issued by security forces in the area of forest fires. Previously the municipalities were responsible for the enforcement and collection of fines regarding on the lack of cleaning of the woods or areas close to houses.
The MAI data indicates that 2,732 administrative offence notices were issued during the first year in which the General Secretariat of the MAI began to collect fines related to forest fires, totalling 224,047 euros. According to the MAI, the GNR issued 2,546 notices and PSP,186.
Changing powers of the authorities to the General Secretariat of the MAI was related, according to the Government, with the small number of fines being levied by local authorities in relation to the cases initiated by the security forces.
Large bush fire in Portimao
It was reported on 14th May that a large bush fire had occoured at Ladeira da Nora, near Portimao in the early hours of the morning.
The fire services were alerted at 0027 hrs. The GNR were subsequently alerted as the fire was caused through "burning off", which went out of control. Given the fire risk at the time burning material during this period is illegal.
It was also reported on 16th May that a large bush fire near Silves had destroyed many hectares of grazing land.
Higher than usual Air Temperatures throughout Portugal
Although we welcome the improved weather this has consequences in terms of fire risk. Undoubtedly May has been a hot month as evidenced by data produced by the IMPA.
On May 13, 2015, about 45% of meteorological stations recorded maximum air temperatures greater than 30 ? C, and above 35 ? C at about 16% of stations.
The highest temperature recorded on the day was 40.0 ? C in Beja. According to the IMPC this is an "extreme value" for the month of May in Portugal, and the highest ever recorded this month in any of the meteorological stations of the IPMA network.
Also weather stations at Amareleja Neves Corvo recorded record temperatures for this month.
Portugal Forest Fires in the EU perspective
There is a very interesting website operated by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) which shows forest fire risk levels throughout Europe and beyond.
The same website also shows the amount of areas burnt through forest fires daily. Of concern, according to the data, some 701 hectares are land was burnt at Minho- Lima in northern Portugal, but the largest are affected was near Alicanti, Spain where a massive 2017 hectares were burnt during the weekend of 16th/17th May.
A recent map for 22nd May 2015 is a follows: extreme levels are shown in dark brown, very high levels in brown then decreasing to low level shown in green.
The EFFIS web-site has many interesting features concerning fire risks and can be accessed here
Spain also hit by record air temperatures
MADRID (Associated Press) - Sunny Spain and Portugal are seeing record high temperatures for May, hitting levels normally only reached in mid-summer.
Up to 20 Spanish cities have been hit by scorching temperatures and several regional governments are worried about the effects the heat wave could have on crops, Spain's meteorological agency said on 15th May.
AP reported that the eastern town of Xativa recorded 42.9 degrees Celsius on Thursday 14th, breaking a 2006 record of 40.1 degrees Celsius set at Cordoba Airport.
Portugal also set a May record, with the southern city of Beja sizzling on Wednesday 13th May at 40 degrees Celsius. Portugal's previous May high was 39.5 degrees Celsius in 2011.
The stifling heat stretched across to Spain's Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, where temperatures of 42.4 degrees Celsius were recorded the same day at Lanzarote Airport.
The town of Pego in Spain's eastern Alicante region was fighting a wildfire on Friday 15th May and authorities in the northeastern region of Catalonia warned of an increased danger of wildfires.
Catalonia is also assessing claims from farmers who say their crops have been damaged by the hot weather and the lack of rain. State broadcaster TVE said some estimates calculated the agricultural losses could exceed 50 million euros.
Creating awareness of forest fire risks for visitors
It is unfortunately a fact that many visitors from cooler climates visit Portugal using motor caravans and/or for camping, are unaware of the fire risks. Although there are designated camp sites, lighting a BBQ in a forest area when the critical fire period is in place or at other times when the fire risk is very high or extreme, is illegal as it poses a serious risk to the forests and public safety.
One of our regular readers, Peter Weaver has put forward what I feel is an excellent suggestion of producing a leaflet that could be distributed to petrol garages in high risk areas that could advice visitors of the risks and request their help concerning fire prevention. He has also suggested approaching off-road travel companies in the UK.
Your help please
We have taken this up with the ANPC and are discussing with them. Should funding be an issue, I would like to ask if there is any company receiving this newsletter that would be willing to sponsor the production of sufficient leaflets. If there is please let me know asap.
The Government has announced Phase Bravo Special Fighting Forest Fires operation under DECIF 2015, which is considered the second most critical of these phases. This runs from 15th May to 30th June and mobilizes 5246 personnel operating 1200 vehicles, 34 air assets and 70 lookout posts.
During this phase 512 ground surveillance teams, 310 initial attack and 428 combat teams are being deployed.
Phase Bravo - Lead up to the Critical Wildfire Period
Charlie phase, known as the critical wildfire period will run from 1st July to 30th September and is the most critical fire level where special conditions apply. Please see the following article.
The various stages within the system are: Alfa (January 1 to May 14), Bravo (May 15 to June 30), Charlie (July 1 to September 30), Delta (between 01 and 31 October ) and ECHO (November 1 to December 31).
This is the period each year announced by Minister of Agriculture and Sea, where special measures are put in place to prevent forest fires due to exceptional meteorological conditions. During this period
and outside the critical period when there is a very high or maximum risk of forest fire
you are not allowed in rural areas to:
- Smoke, make fires or bonfires,
- Burn agricultural or forest debris
- Undertaking grassland or renewal burning or
- Operate tractors, machines or heavy transport vehicles that do not have fire extinguishers, spark and ember retention systems or flame dampers in the exhaust pipes or chimneys.
In 2014 the critical period was designated 1st July to 30th September and updates concerning the phases, and periods they cover for 2015, can be found on the
Burning fires outside the Critical Wildfire Period
If you wish to burn debris or pasture renewal burning outside the critical period or when the wildfire hazard is not very high or maximum, you should telephone 117 or your local Bombeiros. You need to check whether this permissable given the weather conditions in your area. For large areas burning is only permitted after obtaining a permit/permission from the city council or parish in your area. Anyone contravening this is liable for a fine up to ? 60,000.
You should also:
- Avoid periods of strong winds that increase the intensity of the flames, which may ignite surrounding areas,
- Avoid the hottest days when debris and pasture are drier,
- Avoid fires in the proximity of trees, piles of firewood, gas containers or other highly inflammable material and overhead electric lines,
- Avoid burning large piles of debris and instead burn several small piles.
To check the daily fire hazard you can contact 117, the Bomberios, Forestry office, or easier still the Portuguese Weather Institute (Instituto Metereolgia) by internet. The later shows the fire risk by Municipalities throughout Portugal for the day and following day. As at the 26th May the fire risk in Monchique is "very high" and it is forecast that most of the Algarve will be "very high" and Monchique on "maximum" by 28th.Click here to view the map.
Protecting your house against wildfires
The National Forest Authority gives 10 basic steps for the protection of properties in isolated rural areas as follows:
- Knowing the problem - Managing fuel, in other words, clearing the land in the surrounding area is the best way to protect your house.
- Define the Protection area. A minimum range of 50 meters (in some cases up to 100 meters for larger buildings) reduces the chances of a fire reaching your property.
- Reducing the most flammable vegetation. Give priority to a 10 meter watering area around the property avoiding the planting of inflammable vegetation.
- Thinning and pruning. It is important this is done regularly giving priority to weak or ill trees.
- Keep the surrounding area cleaned. Do not keep firewood, forest or agricultural debris, or any type of inflammable material within a 50 meter distance to the property, except when kept in separate buildings.
- Non-flammable pavement area. Keep an area of between 1 or 2 meters of pavement around the building.
- Unobstructed access. Make a protection area of 10 meters on the vehicular access side of the property so that large emergency vehicles can manoeuvre,
- Clean the roof and other structures of the house. Remove dried grass, dead leaves, pine needles, tree branches and moss from the roofing gutters, eaves and in wooden decking.
- Safety in your house. Place a net for the retention of sparks in the chimney and close any gaps where sparks may enter the interior of your home.
- Be prepared in case of fire. Store shovels, rakes and hoses in an easily accessible location.
Clearly the management of the 50 -100 meter protection range could be a joint responsibility between you and your neighbours. It is important therefore to discuss this with them and work out a division of responsibility.
It is also important to note that the management of these areas is enforceable by law and there are heavy fines for non-compliance.
Non-compliance with fuel management (cleaning of land) provisions - rights of neighbours
One of the most frequent questions raised at seminars and direct to SCA is "what can we do as a neighbour if a land owner refuses to clean their land or cannot be contacted to ask them to do this?"
The law is fairly complex on this subject and readers are advised to initially raise this with your local council requesting that the land should be cleaned.
The law concerning this is in Decree law 124/2006 - 28th June - Section II - "Life and Property Defence - Secondary Network of Fuel management tracks" i.e. cleaning land. Article 15 provisions 2- 5 as follows apply:
"2. Owners, tenants, users or entities that hold any title to land adjoining buildings, namely
homes, workshops, yards, warehouses, factories and other equipment are required to carry
out the fuel management (land cleaning) within a range of 50m around those buildings or facilities measured from the outside of the building wall, in accordance with standards listed in the annex of the present law decree that it is an integral part.
3. In the event of non-compliance with the provisions of the preceding paragraphs (in Article 15) the local council
notifies the entities responsible for the work.
4. Once the non-compliance is verified, the local council can perform the fuel management work
with a provision of reimbursement, therefore triggering the necessary mechanisms for
reimbursement of the expenditure incurred.
5. In the absence of intervention, and in accordance with the provisions of the preceding paragraphs, between the 15th April each year and until October 30th, the owners and other entities who hold a title for any administration of housing, yards, warehouses, workshops, factories and other social services and equipment can replace the owners and other forest producers by fuel management provided for in the preceding paragraph, by notifying the owners and, in the absence of a reply in 10 days, by displaying a notice at the work site, within a period of not less than 20 days.
6. In the case of replacement, the owners and the other forest producers are obliged to allow access of the owners or managers of the neighbouring buildings to their land and to compensate them for any expenses incurred in the fuel management."
Please note: That the original legislation in Portuguese is the approved legal authority and can be downloaded here.
EDP electricity distribution cables passing through trees
At the Fire prevention Seminar held in Tavira on 14th April, the Authorities present agreed that EDP distribution cables, if passing through trees,were a potential fire hazard.
Subsequent to contacts made during the seminar two residents of Almancil, where there are many instances of cables penetrating trees, attended a meeting with GNR GIPS and a senior representative of EDP and agreed a new programme for EDP to clean out dangerous trees.
It was rather disturbing to discover that EDP have attempted to carry out this procedure before but have found that owners of land that dangerous trees were on were refusing access to the trees.
It is essential that this work is carried out to prevent future fires and residents of Almancil should without delay advise EDP, the telephone number is on their Invoice, or GIPS through their local GNR station of their location and grant permission for trees to be cleaned.
Hopefully we will be able to provide a dedicated E Mail address in the near future to request tree cleaning to be undertaken in such circumstances.
May I thank the residents concerned through pursuing this matter with a successful outcome. I t is important that land owners assist EDP by granting access to their land.
Contacting the Emergency Services
In case of fire or any other emergency you should dial 112. For forest fires you can also dial 117. These are for emergency use only and should not be used for non-emergencies. Simply state the nature of the emergency, your name and exactly where you are. The operators standard of English is good.
If you need to contact the Bomberios in the Algarve the contact details for each municipality can can be found by clicking here. Do not phone them to report emergencies as all calls should be made to the emergency numbers.
Monitoring fires through the internet
The ANPC (Civil Protection Agency) is the authority responsible for the coordination for dealing with major emergencies including forest fire outbreaks and the resources involved in firefighting. In so far as the Algarve is concerned the ANPC has a coordination center based in Faro and is manned by staff from other authorities such as the GNR.
All major fires are plotted and information updated regularly. If you wish to check if a major forest fire has broken out or the progress in fighting fires then you can do so through this
The Bombeiros in the Algarve is divided into 15 districts districts with its headquarters in Faro. Clicking on "Corpos de Bombeiros de Faro" and then on the crest for your area, gives you all the contact details and other information of your nearest fire station.
In case of major incidents our News/Events page will provide daily information including public appeals such as calls for donations which have been made by the Bombeiros, Civil Protection Agency and other authorities.
INEM (Instituto Nacional de Emerg?ncia M?dica)
Since 1981 Portugal has had an Integrated Medical Emergency System (SIEM). SIEM it is a set of entities that cooperate with one goal: providing assistance to victims of accident or sudden illness. These entities are the PSP, GNR, INEM, the fire department, the Portuguese Red Cross, Hospitals and Health Centres. INEM is the agency of the Ministry of Health responsible for coordinating the operation in mainland Portugal.
The system starts when someone calls 112 - The European Emergency Number. The service call connects to the national emergency centre operated by the PSP. Where the reason for the call has to do with health, it is transferred to the Center's Guidance Emergency Patients (CODU) unit under INEM. Whenever CODU initiates an emergency response it is handled by the unit closest to the place of occurrence, regardless of the entity to which it belongs. More information can be found at the INEM website.
Property Insurance - Fires
It goes without saying that if you live in a rural area property insurance including the risk of fires is very important. It is also important that you check your clauses carefully as some elements of protection of property is mandatory.
For instance one clause sometimes used is very general, but if you are not compliant with the law concerning the protection of your home, this could invalidate the insurance in the event of a claim:
"Law applicable to the Contract
You and We are free to choose the law applicable to this contract but in the absence of agreement to the contrary, the law of the country in which You reside at the date of the contract (or in the case of a business, the law of the country in which the registered office or principal place of business) will apply".
Advice is to check with your insurance company or broker concerning any clauses you should be aware of in the event of a fire claim. It is better to check now rather than find out after the event.
How you can help - Donations
Safe Communities Algarve is a non-profit association run by unpaid volunteers. There are no salaried staff. Our services are free of charge to the public and the association is funded by donations. We help many people each year in dealing with the police as well providing a service which is unique in Portugal.
Your generosity by making a donation to help maintain and further develop the work of the association and thereby help keep the Algarve a safe place to live and visit would be appreciated. Any amount helps.
If you would like to make a donation through Paypal please visit our Welcome page and click on the "donate" button. If you wish to donate by cheque or by interbank transfer please contact SCA for our bank details using the contact page. All donations should be marked "Donation for crime prevention". Thank you.
We try and issue a newsletter every two weeks, either a "Special" as in this case or one that contains a variety of crime and crime prevention matters, news and events etc. If you wish to refer to an earlier newsletter going back to mid 2012 or find one you have not received one recently, please go to our Newsletter page which has the complete list.
How your friends can obtain up to date Crime Prevention advice
Please pass on details of Safe Communities Algarve to neighbours and friends so they to can benefit from the up to date crime prevention advice. Simply ask them to click on the following link to obtain the latest newsletter: www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com This is a free service.
Safe Communities Algarve
26 May 2015
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