Protect your house from rural fires by cleaning your land. Includes how to undertake safe burning of debris, and protection ranges.
Refers to critical fire period; levels of fire risk; laws on lighting of campfires; use of fireworks; and advice for tourists.
Know what to do should a fire break out. Government advice should a fire threaten your home. Monitoring fires.
The laws can be quite complicated and are being updated. Check the laws here as well as other Government directives.

Rural Fires

Latest News

On 25th September the Government announced that the Critical Fire Period has been extended until 15th October 2018, due to forecast weather conditions.


The Threat

Portugal has one of the highest forest fire risk rankings in Europe. Fire researchers all point to the same combination of contributing factors: shifting demographics with population moving from rural to urban areas, changes in land use with more agricultural and forested areas left unattended and not being maintained, and fragmentation of land ownership patterns that discourage investment in forest management and fire planning.

The trend of annual burned area for the last four decades confirms a new level in fire activity in Portugal, despite an increased investment in the amount of firefighting assets.

Rural fires are one of the most serious natural disasters in Portugal, not only because of the high frequency with which they occur and the extent they reach, but also because of the destructive effects they cause. In addition to economic and environmental damage, they can be a source of danger to people and property.

In 2017  some 100 died as a result of fires that took place in June and October. Over 520,000 hectares of forest, shrub, natural pasture and agricultural  land has been burned and people have lost their homes and business affected.

On average each year some 110,000 hectares are destroyed by fires most caused through negligence. Before 2017, 2003 was a record year in terms of area burned in mainland Portugal: about 425,716 ha. Such negligence takes many forms in particular; cleaning land by burning during the critical fire period (normally 1st July to 30th September each year); not taking proper precautions when cleaning of land is permitted and other negligence acts such as discarding cigarette ends. It is estimated that over 90% of fires are caused through negligence and deliberately.

The spread of a fire depends on weather conditions (wind direction and intensity, relative air humidity, temperature), degree of dryness and type of vegetation cover, terrain, access to the fire site, time of intervention (time Between the alert and the first intervention in the fire attack, commonly referred to as the initial attack), etc.

Climate studies now show a disturbing trend, particularly for Portugal and other Southern European countries. Work completed as part of the European Forestry Institute’s larger study of wildfire issues projects that temperature levels (especially in summer) in Portugal will be hotter and precipitation levels lower than average (Moreno, 2009).

Increase in temperatures is now firmly established as a trend and showing no signs of abating in the near future. As early as 2002, researchers were confirming significant increases in the minimum and maximum temperatures for the Iberian Peninsula (Miranda, 2002 and Pereira, 2004).

More importantly, this trend was particularly noticeable in Spain and Portugal. Confirming this thesis, during 2017 Portugal experienced the driest September ever recorded and the hottest October ever recorded in 87 years of record keeping


Causes of Fires

“The latest data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) suggests that nearly all wildfires are man-made, with very few resulting from natural phenomena like lightning. However, the hot and dry conditions induced by climate change result in more severe fires and a higher frequency of small fires growing to become uncontrollable” (EU-JRC, 2016). T

In addition unfortunately some of the largest fires, including the Madeira and Monchique fires in 2015, were the work of arsonists. The Judicial Police have arrested in 2017 over 80 persons for forest fire crimes.


Rural Fire prevention and protection structure

Portugal’s fire protection organisation currently works through three pillars:

  • The Institute of Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) is responsible for national policy for forests and the National Network of Protected Areas, coordinating structural prevention (fuel breaks and fuels treatment), aspects of public awareness and planning, public forest and conservation area infrastructure maintenance, data collection and analysis.
  • The Republican National Guard (GNR) has tasked the Intervention Group for Protection and Rescue (GIPS) with conducting first intervention on wildfires and the Service for the Protection of Nature and the Environment (SEPNA) with coordinating operational prevention actions in terms of surveillance, detection and law enforcement.
  • The Authority for National Civil Protection (ANPC) is responsible for fire response coordination and all firefighting activity, including administration and payment of firefighting contracts, aircraft fleet management and firefighting data and information collection.

Municipalities also have an important role. They manage the Technical Forest Offices (GTF) and many of the Sapadores Florestais teams. Sapadores Florestais teams are five-person hand crews that can also be sponsored by forest owners associations and ZIFs.

Municipalities are also responsible for updating local fire management plans (Planos Municipais De Defesa da Floresta Contra Incêndios), many of which are more than a few years old, and some having never been approved (ICNF 2018). In addition to Portugal state firefighting organisations, non-government organisations and private companies provide significant additional firefighting forces.

But the bulk of the ground firefighting force, the Corpos de Bombeiros (CB), comes from the Humanitarian Association of Volunteer Fireman (AHBV) that exists in almost every community. These ssociations provide local response capability in terms of civil protection and rural fire brigades, ambulance services, and a multitude of non-emergency community support services. They are considered the backbone of the Portuguese firefighting system by most citizens.


Government Response

On 16 April 2018, the 1st Special Meeting of the National Civil Protection Commission (CNPC) held at the ANPC headquarters in Carnaxide, presided over by the Minister of Internal Administration, Eduardo Cabrita, approved the National Operational Directive No. 2/2018 – “Special Device to Combat Rural Fires”. The ‘DECIR 2018’ – which is the ‘Special Rural Fire Fighting Directive’ that sets out in law the legal, strategy, operational and organisational requirements that the Portuguese Government will utilise from 2018 onwards for the prevention, detection, fighting and recovering from rural fires (including civil protection).

In the new legislation, a new system of numbers is assigned to particular periods of the year – and this corresponds with direction within the legislation for the type and size of forces that must be on duty or ready for reinforcement during these periods as well as regional, District and organisational capability. The new levels for 2018 are:

‘Levels of Obligation’ are as follows:

PERMANENT – LEVEL I – 1 January to 14 May

REINFORCED – LEVEL II – 15 May to 31 May

REINFORCED – LEVEL III – 1 June to 30 June

REINFORCED LEVEL IV – 1 July to 30 September

REINFORCED – LEVEL III – 1 October to 15 October

REINFORCED – LEVEL II – 16 October to 31 October

PERMANENT – LEVEL I – 1 November to 31 December


Safe Communities Portugal’s response


SCP has long recognised the threat posted by rural fires and each year conducts awareness actions though it’s website, Facebook, newsletter, in the media and on the Radio based on official government information. It meets regularly with the ANPC, Regional Operational Civil Protection units, the GNR, ICNF and Bombeiros reflecting public views of this issue and proposing new intiatives , including seminars to create for instance greater awareness of the threat and ways to reduce the risks through prevention and protection measures. Apart from the ANPC itself it has the largest resource of information available in Portugal on civil protection measures including rural fires. All these services and information are available to the entire public.

Each year Safe Communities publishes a comprehensive guide to Rural Fire Prevention and land cleaning: The current one for 2018 and previous ones can be downloaded below:

Definitive Guide to Rural Fire Protection and Land Cleaning – Current 2018

Definitive Guide to Forest Fire Prevention and Land Cleaning – 2017

Portugal without Fire – A Definitive Guide – 2016

Guide to Forest fire prevention and Protection World Civil Protection Day -2015

Guide to Forest Fires Prevention and Protection Campaign – 2014.

Decree Law 124/2006  of 28th June in Portuguese concerning the Nation Forest Fire Protection System (which includes land cleaning) was extensively revised in 2017 and the revised version can be  downloaded here. Please note in particular Aricle 15.

Being aware

There are laws that are there to help prevent fires and the Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera (IPMA) has a system of fire risk levels ranging from Green (low risk) to dark red/brown (extreme risk). By checking their website the level in each municipality throughout the country can be found. However within municipalities, which can be quite large, the risk may vary depending on temperature, humidity and wind conditions. If you are intending to burn your land you should check the local Bombeiros first.

During the summer period it  is important to keep up to date where there are forest fires to avoid straying into the areas affected. The best way to do this is to check the ANPC (National Civil Protection Authority) website.

All prevention and protection information is from official sources


There are many terms that are used in the prevention and fighting of rural fires.  A very useful glossary has been developed to explain these and is available as a download in our Resource Centre below.


Resource Centre Downloads

  • Bombeiros District and Regional Full Contact ListDownload
  • Portugal without fires - Fearure for Algarve Resident May 2015Download
  • Manual de Gestao combustivel_- AFNDownload
  • Whats in the mind of a forest fire arsonistDownload
  • Portugal without fires depends on everyoneDownload
  • Protection de votre maison contre les incendires de forêtDownload
  • DECIF 2017 ANPCDownload
  • Use of BBQs during the Critical Fire PeriodDownload
  • Prohibited access to Forest and special areas during Critical Fire PeriodDownload
  • Working together to reduce rural fire risk to tourists.ppt WebsiteDownload
  • Forest Fire Multilingual Glossary_ptDownload