Land cleaning/Protection

Introduction

Forests and shrub land occupy about 67% of mainland Portuguese territory (ICNF 2017 Forest Profile). Of the 35% of area occupied by forests, only 3% are public land. Much of the forest is privately or communally owned, mostly in small parcels less than 1 hectare, and can’t be used for farming or cultivated agricultural due to poor soils and geography. Yet 80% of Portugal’s forests are not managed.

Determining ownership can be a challenge for many of these small and unmanaged plots, even for the government agencies charged with enforcing forest fire prevention laws. Many owners who may have inherited family property live outside the country and their contact information is unknown. In other cases, ownership information is registered but not made available.

 

Fuel Management

Since 2006 Portugal has had in place laws concerning “fuel management” the cleaning of land. The aim of these to prevent the spread of fires, in particular, reaching populated areas. The various laws and government information are outlined in this page.

 

Decree Law no 124/2006 28th June

This law was introduced in 2006 and is referred extensively in our newsletters and previously on this website over the last 5 years. The main points concerning fuel management are referred to in Article 15 Protection of Persons and Property, which stipulates that all owners, tenants or other entities holding land adjoining buildings which includes houses, shipyards, warehouses, workshops, factories or other structures, are legally obliged to carry out fuel management within a range of 50 metres around those buildings. This law has been extensively revised since the fires in 2017, and the wording of the revised laws refer to the articles in 124/2006 28th June. In undertaking fuel management please refer to the subsequent revisions below.

 

Basic fuel management law

Fuel management should be conducted in a range of 50 meters from the outer wall of buildings located in rural areas and 100 metres around designated clusters of houses and villages.

It is important to note, however that this does not mean destroying everything within these ranges, but simply following the government laws on what should or should not be cut down or pruned. The mandatory steps that should be taken are as follows with more detailed information available in our definitive guide :

  1. The space between treetops should be at least 4m. In maritime pine and eucalyptus stands, the minimum distance between tree-crowns must be, at least, of 10m.
  2. Prune trees 4m above the ground. For trees with a height of less than 8m, prune the lower half (50%) of the tree.
  3. Trees and bushes must be 5m away from the buildings and treetops must not extend over the roof.
  4. Shrubs must not be higher than 50 centimetres.
  5. Do not keep firewood debris or any type of inflammable material within this area.

 

 

 

Steps for 2018

Given that rural fires are in recent years have occurred earlier in the year, steps were put in place with revised legislation in 2017/8, included in which is that is mandatory for land owners to take steps to manage their land to protect their properties against rural fires by 15th March 2018 as shown in the drawing above.

The law states: “During the year 2018, the work defined in number 2 of article 15 of Decree-Law no. 124/2006, of 28 June, must occur up to 15 March, in its current version, regardless of the existence or approval of a Municipal Plan Forest Protection against Fire (PMDFCI).

However, due to difficulties for many owners meeting this earlier deadline, on 15th March stating that The Council of Ministers approved a decree-law that determines that notices of mismanagement raised by the non-clearing of land will not take effect until 31st May, if by that date the person responsible for the cleaning of land, has not undertaken the work by which they are legally boundDecree Law No 38/2018 of 22nd February

In other words, fines will only be effective if the work has not been undertaken by 31st May 2018. This means completed by then.

From 1st April councils can take over the cleaning of land, charging the owner the cost of doing this.

Are laws which are useful to refer to are Decree Law 124/2006 by introducing a new law 76/2017 August 17th where most of the current legislation can be found.

 

Decree Law no 114/2017 29th December

This law is the State Budget. Article 153 sets out the deadline for 2018 fuel management at 15 the March 2018, regardless of the existence of an approved Municipal Plan Forest Protection against Fire (PMDFCI). The deadline of 31st May, 2018 is set for the municipalities to ensure the completion of the work, including that done on the land of the non-compliant forest owners. It also gives notice that the penalties for non-compliance are doubled, now varying between €280 and €10,000 for individuals and between €1,600 and €120,000 for collective entities such as companies.

 

Decree-Law no 10/2018 of 14th June. 

The extreme consequences of fires in the territory, together with changes in climatic conditions, have highlighted the need to increase the safety of populations and their property by clarifying the criteria for managing vegetation. These are clarified in  Decree law update: law n.º10/2018, 14th February.

Attachment

Criteria for the management of fuels within the secondary fuel management network

For the purposes of fuel management in the scope of the surrounding secondary  fuel management networks to buildings, population clusters, equipment and infrastructures, to tree strata, shrubs, not integrated into agricultural areas, with the exception of fallow and pasture areas or gardens, the following criteria shall apply:

In the tree stratum the distance between the canopies of the trees must be at least 10 metres in strands of maritime pine and eucalyptus trees, and should be pruned to 50% of their height if they are 8 metres tall or less; or if more than 8 m in height then pruned at least 4 metres above the ground.

Agricultural areas next to buildings

In the tree stratum, in the species not mentioned in the preceding paragraph, the distance between the canopies of the trees must be at least 4 metres and should be pruned to 50% of their height if they are 8 metres tall or less; or if more than 8 m in height then pruned at least 4 metres above the ground.

In the area containing shrub, the maximum height of the vegetation may not exceed 50 centimetres.

In the area containing scrub, the maximum height of the vegetation may not exceed 20 centimetres.

II – In the case of road network infrastructures to which 10 metres clearance band on each side of a road must be maintained PLUS the distance of the vertical projection of nearest tree canopies. For non-concession roads (those not owned by companies) or those under the responsibility of municipality, the owner of the land on which the road is a boundary or passes through, is responsible for the fuel management.

III – In the bands of surrounding fuel management to buildings the following criteria must be complied with:

The canopies of trees and shrubs must be at least 5 metres distance from the building and avoid any projection over the roof of the building;

Under exceptional circumstances, where the tree cover has special heritage or landscape value, a distance of less than 5 metres is admissible, as long as enhanced provisions are made to keep the area clear of combustible materials both horizontally and vertically, and steps are taken to ensure that no combustible materials will accumulate on the roof of the building.

Whenever possible, a paved range from 1m to 2 m wide, surrounding the whole building

No accumulation may occour of combustable substances, such as firewood, wood or leftovers from forest or agricultural exploitation, as well as other high inflammable substances.

 

Protected trees

In the case of protected tress such as Cork and Holm Oak trees, it is necessary to obtain permission from the ICNF to either cut down or prune these trees.

The application forms to undertake either cutting or pruning can be found in our resource centre below. They can be emailed to the ICNF.

 

Decree Law 38/2018 of 22nd February

This amendment sets out guidelines for inspection that ensures the compliance with deadlines for cleaning of the land have been observed in the designated priority areas. The parishes are identified as 1st or 2nd Priority. In reference to Decree-Law No. 124/2006 of 28 Juno, inspection priority between March 16 and April 30 is also given for fuel management on infrastructure such as road and rail networks, electric power lines and gas transmission etc. Also in reference to Decree-Law No. 124/2006 of 28 Juno, inspection priority between 1 May and May 31 is given for compulsory fuel management of no less than 100 metres around population clusters within forest areas.

 

Legal Fuel Management Band ranges

  • Buildings holding confined land located in rural areas – the owners, tenants or other entities must create a fuel management band of 50 metres measured from exterior masonry if the land is forest, grassland or natural pastures.
  • Confined population clusters within forest areas fuel management is mandatory in a outer protective strip of a minimum width not less than 100 metres. It is the owners, tenants or other entities that hold land in this band who are responsible for the fuel management. A ‘population cluster’ is defined as a set of nearby or contiguous buildings, separated between each other by a maximum of 50 meters and with 10 or more lots, making its perimeters the closed polygonal line that encompasses all buildings, and delimits the least possible area.
  • Road network – 10 metres clearance band on each side of a road must be maintained PLUS the distance of the vertical projection of nearest tree canopies. For non-concession roads (those not owned by companies) or those under the responsibility of municipality, the owner of the land on which the road is a boundary or passes through, is responsible for the fuel management.
  • Medium voltage power lines, fuel management area = to the vertical projection of the conductor cables plus 7 metres width for each side. Fuel management is the obligation of the electricity company.
  • Natural gas pipeline network – 5 metres from the axis of the conduit. Fuel management is the obligation of the gas company.
  • Rail network – 10 metres width for each side. Fuel management is the obligation of the railway company.
  • Transmission lines and high voltage power lines, fuel management area = to the vertical projection of the outer conductor cables plus 10 metres width for each side. Fuel management is the obligation of the electricity company.
  • Campsites, parks and any other similar structures within forest areas – 100 metres

 

Non-compliant owners

If a neighbours land is within your fuel management band then the owner of land is responsible for the fuel management under the requirement laid down by law.

Firstly check to see the condition of the land and whether it poses a fire risk to your property. Is it covered in trees or other vegetation that does not meet the requirements under the law.

If you know the owner of the land discuss with the neighbour the situation and ensure the neighbour complies.

However often the owner of the land is not known or perhaps lives overseas. The matter is sometimes more complicated that your land can be boarded by several lots belonging to different owners.

If you wish to try and locate the owner yourself this can be quite challenging. Asking local people in the area may help or approaching the Junta da Freguisia.

If not the simplist way to get fuel management work undertaken is to report this to the GNR SEPNA or to the local City Hall Camera. The Câmara Municipal has the responsibility (Article 153 Decree-Law No. 114/2017 of 29 Dezembro) to get the land belonging to unknown or absentee landowners cleaned.

The GNR is responsible for the fiscaliztion process namely initiating fines in situations of non-compliance

If you wish to report neighbouring land either to the GNR: the following should be included in the correspondence:

  • Your full names, address of your property, residency number, fiscal number and contact details.
  • The location of the offending property, with a description of the problem and if you know the types of trees or bushes involved.
  • Supplement this if possible with a satellite image from Google Earth with coordinates showing the offending property, bearing in mind this will unlikely show the condition of the land.
  • Photos taken showing the current state of the property.
  •  State that you believe that the condition of the land breaches the fuel management laws – Decree-Law no. 124/2006, of June 28, as amended by Decree-Law no. 17/2009, of January 14 and Decree-Law No. 10/2018 of 14 February.
  • If you can write this in Portuguese that is preferable – try and get a friend to help
  • Date the correspondence and keep a copy.

Upon receipt the Câmara Municipal and GNR have now to verify the reported land is in breach of the fuel management law. If so the Câmara Municipal has a maximum of 5 days to notify the owners or responsible entities and set them a deadline.

If the owners cannot located or unknown or the deadline passes with no action being taken it is then the responsibility of the Câmara Municipal to get the work done usually using hired contractors.

 

Priority areas for inspections

Dispatch no. 1913/2018 Dated 22nd February 2018

For 2018 the Government has identified 189 municipalities and 1049 parishes on the mainland that are at maximum risk and 9800 clusters of properties that are an effective priority

The priority areas for the inspection of fuel management are divided into the parishes of 1st and 2nd priority, (red and orange respectively) according to the classification of the Institute of Nature and Forest Conservation, ICNF. The Priority map can be downloaded here from the ICNF website . Legal Dispatch 1913/2018 List of Priority parishes in PDF

 

How will the laws are enforced 

In 2017, some 1686 people were fined for not managing their land. This year with far greater priority being given to this, there is the potential for these figures to rise should people not comply.

Prevention also comes before enforcement however, so campaigns are being undertaken throughout the country to create awareness among the community in order that as much land is cleaned by the 15th March 2018. These awareness campaigns are being undertaken by the GNR, civil protection, Bombeiros and others, including volunteer organizations, through the media and visits to those in isolated areas.

The GNR and ICNF have emphasised that it is important to note that the whole object of the campaign is to ensure that the areas where the risks are high are cleaned to help protect life and property in the event of a fire. Where reports have been made to the council and or GNR, or they themselves have noted areas that are required to be cleaned, the owner or tenant will usually be warned with advice given on what needs to be done, before enforcement action is taken.

If, however, by the 15th March land has not been cleaned then a contravention order may be initiated. However this will not be processed if by the 31st May the owner has completed the fuel management as required.

After 31st May land owners/tenants, who do not comply after such warnings by the GNR or Civil Protection, may receive in due course a notification by post of the fine, giving the amount, how it needs to be  paid and the payment deadline. Failure to do so will result in further action and the likelihood of higher penalties.

Fines: The fines for failing to clean land for 2018 have been doubled and are currently €280 – €10,000 for individuals and €1600 – €120,000 for corporations

 

Cleaning land by burning

98% of fires in Portugal come from human sources. Portugal also experiences an unusually high number of ignitions relative to geographic size and population as compared with other Southern European countries with a similar climate. While it can be said regarding fire that the Portuguese are the problem, they’re also the solution. But to become the solution, some attitudes and behaviours will have to change. Citizens, especially in rural areas, will have to become more vigilant, more vocal, and more engaged in fire prevention

Fire has been a part of rural Portuguese tradition for centuries. It’s used to clear and prepare agriculture fields, dispose of rubbish and debris, cook food in outdoor pits, promote new growth in pastoral areas, even to control snakes around the perimeter of houses. While these behaviours may not be risky during much of the year in cooler, wetter periods; they can become damaging, even deadly, when the weather changes for the worse. The government knows this, which is why they issue Critical Season burning restrictions when conditions become too risky for any kind of fire. However, not everyone
complies. In fact, some try to evade detection by burning late at night when the smoke can’t be seen. Some continue burning because they’ve been doing it for decades and are dismissive of government regulations.

 

Difference between burning debris and pasture renewal burning 

For many people living in rural areas the disposal of debris from tree cuttings and bushes is a constant challenge. The normal process is to burn these, but in doing so there are a number of laws that dictate when and under what conditions this is possible. Fuel management of land is essential to prevent the spread of fires so understanding the law is essential.

However, sometimes there is confusion between burning debris and pasture renewal burning. It is important to understand the differences because the approval conditions are very different.

Debris burning ( Queima), is used mainly in the cleaning of land before the critical fire period and takes places after bushes, shrubs, tree branches have been cut, gathered together in small piles and then burned. Do not place these piles however under trees.

Pasture renewal burning ( Queimada) is generally for grassland renewal, the burning of stubble and forest debris that are uncut or cut on the ground, but NOT gathered into piles.

Both these types of burning are not permitted during the Critical Fire period, and when the Fire Risk is ” Very High” or “Extreme”. It is important to note that in addition, pasture renewal burning is also NOT permitted when the fire risk is ” HIGH” or above. In other words it is only permitted in Moderate or Low conditions.

 

Debris burning

If you wish to burn debris in piles outside the critical period or when the wildfire hazard is not very high or maximum, you should telephone your local Bombeiros and obtain permission, before doing so. .

In these cases you need to call them and check whether this permissible given the weather conditions in your area. They will ask you a number of questions such as the date and the time of the burning, what you are intending to burn (items for instance such as tyres and plastics are prohibited). This is important in order that they know where controlled burning is taking place so they know it is not a fire outbreak. It is also a good habit to inform them when the burning has been completed.

 

Burning of large areas – pasture renewal burning

The burning of large areas such as in pasture renewal burning is only permitted after obtaining a permit/permission from the city council or parish in your area. If it is granted it may need to be conducted in the presence of a certified firefighter or, a team of firefighters. Anyone contravening this is liable for a fine up to € 60,000. You cannot burn when the fire risk if ” High”, “Very High” or “Extreme” or during the Critical Fire period

 

UPDATE 15TH JUNE 2018

In an effort to simplify the procedure to report requests to burn debris in the cleaning of land and scrub land waste, the ICNF have launched an APP.

Upon making a request through the App the applicant receives an automated response based on ‘real time’ local information, such as the prevailing weather conditions and the fire situation in recent days.

The system generates a response based on the risk conditions for the requested day. The applicant will have to register online and then request authorisation to undertake a controlled burn. The reply is received by SMS or email. See full details and how to register located here:    

 

Precautions to be taken when burning debris and other material

Burning debris is one of the most common ways of disposing of cut waste from your land but when uncontrolled is one of the biggest causes of rural fires.

The ICNF has provided a comprehensive list of precautions to be taken when burning debris at times when it is permissible to do so – this is known as a controlled burn. This is used to eliminate left-over materials from forestry operations or farming, such as pruned leaves and branches from vines and olive trees, among others, cut up and piled into a heap.

The precautions to be taken include when and under what conditions fires can be lit and how they should be managed. Specifically it covers issues such as: humidity, air temperature, wind, fuels, avoiding slopes; the gradual feeding of fires; monitoring fires; water supply; utensils to be available and the proper management of the aftermath during the period of extinguishing and beyond. Many fires are caused by people burning debris or land without taking the proper precautions.

These very helpful tips will allow fires to be lit and controlled, during periods where it is permitted to do so, without the risk of the fire becoming uncontrolled and threatening your life and property and that of others.

The most basic advice is to choose cloudy days; take your mobile phone with you so you can raise the alarm in the case of fire and have someone else with you when you undertake the burn. Do not undertake controlled burns when the weather is hot and dry or when it is windy.

Please note that the information on this page is from official government authorities

 

Resource Centre Downloads

 

  • Protecting your house against Forest Fires ICNF EnglishDownload
  • Protect your House against Rural Fires ICNF v 2018 EnglishDownload
  • Proteja a sua Casa dos Incendios Rurais v 2018Download
  • How to do a controlled burn of Heaped Materiqals Safely ICNF v 2018Download
  • List of Prioritiy Parishes Inspections Land CleaningDownload
  • ICNF Application Form Cutting down Cork anf Holm Oak TreesDownload
  • ICNF Application Form pruning branches Cork treesDownload
  • A Definitive Guide to Rural Fire Prevention and Land Cleaning 2018 (Update)Download
  • Algarve Contacts ListDownload
  • Protect Your House Against Forest FiresDownload
  • Proteja a sua Casa dos Incendios RuraisDownload
  • How to undertake a controlled burning of heaped debris safelyDownload
  • Schutzen Sie Ihr Haus Gegen Feuer Im Landlichen RaumDownload
  • Protegez Votre Maison Contre Les Incendies RurauxDownload
  • APLICAÇÃO DE TELEMÓVEL FACILITA AUTORIZAÇÕES PARA QUEIMAS E QUEIMADAS SEGURASDownload
  • Forest fire fuel type H for Home)Download