Assessment of the biggest fire of 2019 points to flaw in the mobilization of air assets

The Fundada fire assessment report, which took place in July 2019 in Vila de Rei (Castelo Branco) and Mação (Santarém), considers that, in the most critical phase of combat, there was  a  lack of air resources.

The Independent Technical Observatory’s report, released today, focused on what was the largest of all fires that occurred in 2019, with an estimated burnt area of ​​9,249 hectares (about 22% of the total burnt area last year, which was close to 42,000 hectares), and also what stood out for the relevance of the impacts on the forest stands affected and on agriculture.

In fighting fire, technicians conclude that “the mobilization of aerial means ended up not corresponding to the phase of greatest need”, estimating that “in the first 16 hours of the fire, the affected area was about 65% of the total burnt area of this fire, which lasted three days to be subdued and five days until it was extinguished ”.

“In the most critical phase, the lack of availability of these means was frankly noticed”, he stresses.

The fire fighting that started on the afternoon of July 20, 2019 in the municipality of Vila de Rei and then extended to those in Mação and Sertã involved a total of 1,946 operational and 703 means (air and land), but “the allocation of aerial means to this fire may have compromised the achievement of more favorable results ”, which was justified by“ some simultaneity in occurrences of this typology ”.

On the first day, five aerial means were involved, four of the same typology (medium amphibious type Fire Boss planes) and a medium helicopter, on the second day 11 aerial means were deployed, obeying the practice of “muscular mobilization of aerial means”, a strategy that, however, “it did not have the desired result” given the similar typologies and autonomies, which contributed to “its equally simultaneous demobilization, providing long periods when there were no aerial means available to engage in the theater of operations”.

As an example, the report points to the fact that at 15:55 on the 21st, when there was a “reactivation burning with intensity in the Sesmarias area towards the São João do Peso Reception Center”, no means were working air.

On the other hand, the report states that the use of tactical fire and counter-fire in this fire “has been greatly reduced”, recommending “a better consideration of the possibility of using these techniques in a safer and more professional manner”.

“Its use during night periods, with lower wind and high relative humidity, was apparently reduced, not taking advantage of the opportunity window of the most favorable conditions in that period”, he adds.

The report also supports the discrepancy in the information systems used in Vila de Rei and Mação, which caused information to be lost with the change of command and the change of support vehicle.

In the “lessons learned”, contained at the end of the document, the Observatory states that “it cannot fail to draw attention to the problems of a different approach between neighboring municipalities or districts”, a difference that was “observed in the elaboration of hazard maps, in adoption of preventive measures and also in the area of ​​combat ”.

“It is not acceptable that failures in the transmission of information and strategy can occur when the fire travels different territories because different systems are used”, he stresses.

Therefore, it “strongly” recommends that the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority “ensure that there is only one single system operating at the national level that can, and should, incorporate all good system developments produced at other levels, such as’ MacFire ‘”(Developed in Mação).

The Observatory recognizes that in the municipality of Mação there has been, since 1990, “an effort that can be considered exemplary at national level, in the sense of general prevention of the territory”.

As previously pointed out, the report considers “the probability of an intentional cause” to be very likely, noting that “material evidence of the ignition medium used” has been collected and that the investigation by the Judicial Police is ongoing.

Regarding the post-fire recovery phase, the Observatory stresses that the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests “has completed the first stages of the process in a relatively short time”, but “the following phases are yet to be completed”, namely the mapping of priority areas for intervention and the survey of the affected infrastructures, “so that the execution projects for intervention can be elaborated under the PDR [Rural Development Program] 2020”.


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