Overview and Threat
Decree-Law No. 82/2021 of October 13
Summary: Establishes the Integrated Management System for Rural Fires in mainland Portugal and defines its operating rules.
The XXII Constitutional Government committed itself to implementing the national system for the integrated management of rural fires, implemented in the National Plan for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires (PNGIFR), approved through Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 45-A/2020, of June 16, defining a model of horizontal articulation of all entities participating in structural prevention, in systems for self-protection of people and infrastructure, in decision support mechanisms, in the device for fighting rural fires and in the recovery of burned areas.
The dramatic impact of the great rural fires on the lives of the Portuguese, with the loss of lives, property and thousands of hectares of forest, determined the firm will to change the national paradigm in terms of preventing and fighting rural fires, as expressed in the guidelines approved by Council of Ministers Resolution No. 157-A/2017, of 27 October, and the principles expressed in the Single Directive on Prevention and Combat, approved by Resolution of the Council of Ministers No. 20/2018, of 1 October March.
This new regime introduces the aggregate management of rural territories and the mobilization of the agricultural and livestock sectors to integrate prevention with suppression, recognizing that the adoption of good practices in landscape planning and management, namely the implementation and maintenance of management strips of fuel, the disposal and reuse of leftovers, the renewal of pastures or agroforestry mosaics, are crucial for a more resilient, viable and value-generating territory.
This change also considers Law no. 33/96, of 17 August, which defines the bases of national forestry policy, seeking national, regional and sub-regional governance, with functions for planning and coordinating prevention, detection, and collaboration in the suppression of fires, and determining landscape-scale management and the promotion of forest exploitation planning.
Council of Ministers Resolution No. 12/2019, of 21 January, approved the vision, objectives and implementation measures of the Integrated Management System for Rural Fires (SGIFR), for which it is important to establish the appropriate legal framework.
The SGIFR provides, at the national level, the macro-policies and strategic guidelines that contribute to reduce the danger and change the behaviour of the owners, users and direct and indirect beneficiaries of the rural territory.
Likewise, it is necessary to define the contents of the various planning instruments for the integrated management of rural dwellings at national, regional, sub-regional and municipal levels.
An information system on rural dwellings is created, in order to aggregate and disseminate all relevant technical information from the SGIFR.
There is a clear commitment to the definition of a model based on the prevention and minimization of risks, either through awareness-raising actions, or through the establishment of territorial defence networks, in which fuel management assumes a leading role with repercussions on the sanctioning regime.
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 a total of 117 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.
Reports (In English) on these two fires can be downloaded here:
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
Those who own a house in the country or in the forest are more vulnerable to fires because of the proximity of vegetation. Cleaning the vegetation around houses is the best way to prevent a fire from reaching you and your property.
Therefore, comply with the rules and restrictions in force.
“Portugal Chama – Portugal calls for all!”
Mobilise to change behaviour before summer arrives
It is in the hands of all of us to contribute to a Portugal to be protected from serious rural fires.
“Portugal calls” is the National Campaign with the seal of the Portuguese Republic, which integrates the participation of all the governed areas and supervised services involved in the prevention and combating rural fires and which will air tomorrow, on television, radio, press, digital and billboards.
“Portugal calls” is much more than a campaign, it is a call to action, which launches a challenge to each of the population to mobilise and contribute to a country protection from serious rural fires. The danger is there and it is up to us all to act by Summer, clearing the land, taking care of the land and the forest, performing the registering of the land, protecting the villages and alerting people of the risk.
Rural Fire Prevention and Protection Action List
The following is a top ten list of actions that should be taken to ensure the safety of yourself, family and property. This has been endorsed by the AGIF
- Check if you are living in a high risk fire area (see map and list of parish)
- Undertake land cleaning without delay – if advice is required contact local civil protection or Hotline 808 200 520 – Remember deadline 15th March
- Neighbouring land – if it poses fire risk, and cannot be resolved, contact GNR as soon as possible
- Prepare your house by cleaning roof, terraces, leaves from gutters etc
- Controlled burning of debris- ensure authorisation/permit is obtained before and follow safety regulation
- Familiarise yourself with self-protection measure under Safe village – Safe people Program
- For those in high risk areas – prepare or update an Emergency Evacuation Kit
- Emergency Contact numbers – keep at hand
- High risk areas – Familiarisze yourself with village and evacuation plans and assembly points. If none identify and escape route and safety point.
- Developments – Keep up to date through ICNF, ANEPC, IPMA websites and that of SCP
Approves the vision, objectives and measures for the implementation of the Integrated Rural Fire Management System
Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 12/2019
The protection, relief and assistance of populations in the face of collective risks are essential rights and are of particular importance in view of the scale of the catastrophes and the potential of the resulting victims, together with the psychological and socio-economic impacts on the populations affected, and in the country as a whole. In this sense, civil protection structures, working in a multisectoral framework, have as their fundamental goals the prevention of collective risks inherent to major accidents or catastrophes, mitigation of their effects and protection and rescue of people and goods in danger, when those situations occur, as recommended in the Basic Law of Civil Protection.
In effect, the Government has implemented a new model of action, which advocates a greater and effective safety of people in the face of major accidents and disasters and a preventive attitude of civil protection, resulting in the adoption of an integrated and specialized model for the management of rural fire, seeking to ensure that fire does not pose a threat to the population, nor does it present a potential for harm to people, property and the environment.
Within this framework, an integrated system for the management of rural fires has been established, and the Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fire, IP (AGIF, IP) is responsible for planning, strategic coordination and evaluation.
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).
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 (ANEPC) 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.
DECIR organizes itself and functions permanently, being reinforced, accordingly.
with the levels of operational commitment as a function of the probability levels of
occurrence of rural fires and SIOPS alert status activated – normal status
(monitoring) or Special Alert Status (EAE). The following levels are defined:
‘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 ANEPC, Regional Operational Civil Protection units, the GNR, ICNF and Bombeiros reflecting public views of this issue and proposing new initiatives , 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 ANEPC 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 which can be downloaded below:
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 Article 15.
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 ANEPC 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.