Safe Village – Safe People Self Protection Program

Safe Village Safe People Program – Overall aims

  • Protection of agglomerates (groups of properties) – actions aimed at the management of protection zones for agglomerates located in the urban-forest interface, in order to reduce the possibility of buildings being affected by rural fires;
  • Prevention of risky behaviour – awareness actions aimed at reducing the number of ignitions caused by risky behaviour associated with the use of fire;
    Awareness and warning to the population – actions aimed at creating awareness and informing the population about the risk of rural fire in force and the self-protection measures to be adopted in the event of the possibility of a rural fire approaching;
  • Evacuation of agglomerates – actions designed to prepare and carry out a spontaneous or planned evacuation of an agglomerate in the face of an approaching rural fire;
  • Shelter and refuge places – actions designed to select and prepare spaces or buildings of a particular agglomerate (housing group) to serve as shelter (in an enclosed space) or refuge (in an open space) during the passage of a rural fire, in cases where this is the most viable option or the only possible one.

Safe Communities Portugal has translated for the ANEPC the manual on how to help prevent Rural Fires and measures to take should a fire break out. For those in areas covered by this program this includes the establishment of warning alarms and signage, escape routes, assembly points etc. This can be Downloaded in English here

Self Protection measures in the event of rural fires

Smoke from fires

The General Directorate of Health (DGS) warns of the risks associated with exposure to smoke from forest fires. DGS advice and actions to take are as follows.

In a bulletin in 2018 it stated: “Smoke from fires has high levels of particulate matter and toxins that can have respiratory, cardiovascular and ophthalmological effects, among others. Main symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation, persistent cough, shortness of breath, pain or tightness in the chest and fatigue”.

The effects of fires can be most felt on pregnant women, children, patients with breathing problems and patients with heart problems, outdoor workers, firefighters and the population involved.

Among the pollutants emitted by fires are particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

In order to protect populations against the main effects of smoke from fires, DGS recommends:

  • Use suitable particle filtration masks, especially for those who need to remain outside, or to protect the mouth and nose with wet wipes;
  • Stay indoors and keep doors and windows tightly closed, reducing air intake from outside. If necessary, seal the windows with wet cloths;
  • Should the situation worsens, the most sensitive groups should be evacuated to equipped with air conditioning systems if possible;
  • Reduce physical activity;
  • Restrict the use of tobacco.
  • After fires maintain the use of damp masks or wipes in ash cleaning operations inside and outside buildings;

 

ANEPC advice if surrounded by a fire is to breathe close to the ground, if possible with a wet cloth, to avoid inhaling smoke

Knowing what to do in the event of a rural fire can help save your life and property. The following gives government advice on this subject which we share in accordance with the protocol Safe Communities Portugal has with the ANEPC.

How major fires are fought in Portugal

Before reading further it is important to understand the work undertaken by various entities (known as civil protection agents), during rural fires. It is quite a complex structure, within the overall framework of the annual DCEIR (National Operational Directive to Combat Rural Fires) and although each entity has clearly defined roles, when there are emergencies those deployed work as a team, hand in hand, taking every action required, with the overall aim of preserving life and property.

There are many entities that can be deployed in large fires, including the Bombeiros, GNR, PSP, UEPS, Special Civil Protection Force, INEM and Red Cross, Forest Sappers, Civil Protection command units, ICNF and others. Depending on the nature of the fire and its complexity, determines the level of resources actually deployed.

The complete guide of how fires are fought and responsibilities can be downloaded here in two parts (In English

Who does what in Rural Fires Website

Who does what in rural fires Part 2.

The phases of a Rural Fire

During a rural fire there are various phases. When monitoring a fire through the ANEPC dashboard here, it is important to know what each phases means. The following chart shows the phases.

If you are affected by a rural fire

We all hope that we are never in a position where we are threatened by a rural fire, which is an alarming experience.

If unfortunately you do become threatened by a fire it is essential that proper steps are taken to help protect you, your family and property.

According to the Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 157-A / 2018, of October 27, this latest program “Safe Villages – Safe People” outlines self-protection measure for the population in the event of a rural fire affecting people and their homes

The following list prepared by the Ministry of Internal Administration (updated in 2018) is based on their vast experiences outlines the basic steps to take.

The leaflets in English and other languages, translated by Safe communities Portugal, can be downloaded below.

Videos produced by the ANEPC have been published in Portuguese with English subtitles by Safe Communities Portugal can be downloaded in Portuguese here and sound cloud here .

Portuguese 

English

Spanish

French

Dutch

German

Russian

Interior

If a fire approaches your home

  • Let the neighbours know;
  • Water walls, roof and 10 meters around house;
  • Close doors, windows and other openings, close blinds or shutters;
  • Remove furniture, tarpaulins or firewood near the dwelling;
  • If it is safe to do so, disconnect and remove the gas cylinders to a safe place;
  • Keep away from the windows anything that can burn and put wet towels in the crevices;
  • If you are not in danger, extinguish small outbreaks with water, earth or green branches;
  • Follow the instructions of the authorities.

If you get surrounded by a fire

  • Make your way to a shelter or collective refuge. If you are not near one, look for a preferably flat area with water or little vegetation;
  • Breathe close to the floor, if possible with a wet cloth, to avoid inhaling the smoke;
  • Cover your head and the rest of the body;
  • Use a damp cloth to protect your face from heat and smoke.
  • Communicate your situation to the authorities through 112.

In case of confinement within the building

  • Keep calm;
  • Keep the curtains and sofas away from the windows;
  • Close doors, windows and other openings that allow the entrance of sparks to the interior;
  • Place wet towels in the crevices of doors and windows;
  • Stay away from walls;
  • Look for shelter in the rooms at the opposite end of the dwelling relative to the side where the fire is approaching;
  • Wait for the fire to pass, and then check for fire outbreaks surrounding the dwelling and on your roof.
  • Communicate your situation to the authorities through 112.

In case of Evacuation

  • Keep calm and obey the authorities instructions;
  • Help children, the elderly and people with mobility limitations;
  • Take your evacuation kit and identification documents;
  • Do not waste time collecting unnecessary objects and do not go back;
  • Close the doors and windows as you move out of the dwelling;
  • Take pets with you;
  • Make your way quickly to the nearest shelter or collective refuge
  • Comply with authority indications

Have an evacuation kit prepared with:

  • First-aid kit;
  • Your usual medication;
  • Water and non-perishable food;
  • Personal hygiene products;
  • A change of clothes;
  • Radio, flashlight and whistle;
  • Money;
  • Family / friends contact list

If you are near a fire

  • Immediately call 112;
  • If you are not in danger and have suitable clothing try to extinguish small outbreaks with shovels, hoes or branches;
  • Avoid exposure to smoke, cover your mouth and nose with a damp cloth;
  • Protect the body from flames and heat with dry and long clothing;
  • Do not impair the actions of firefighters, forest firefighters and other rescue forces and follow their instructions;
  • Remove your vehicle from the access routes to the fire;
  • If you notice the presence of people with high risk behaviour, inform the authorities.
  • Follow the indications of the authorities

Prepare the dwelling for a quick departure: 

  • keep the exits of each room and the building free, without objects blocking the way; 
  • ensure that all exits can be opened easily;
  • have the exit paths chosen and identified (usually a door and a window) to exit each room; 
  • define common meeting points that are known to the whole family.

In case of preventive evacuation, carried out in advance to the outside of the cluster:

  • Keep calm;
  • Comply with the evacuation instructions given by the authorities. Don’t go back;
  • Helping children, the elderly or family members with mobility limitations;
  • Bring the  evacuation kit  Don’t waste time collecting unnecessary objects;
  • Take your pets with you;
  • Close doors and windows as you leave the house, as well as other openings (eg ventilation grilles) that allow sparks to enter the interior;
  • Leave the house’s exterior lights on;

 

If you have time and security situation allows:

  • Move the curtains and sofas that are next to the windows away and remove the garden furniture, canvas and firewood that are on the porches or next to the house;
  •  Turn off and remove gas cylinders to a safe place, for example by immersing them in tanks to minimize the risk of explosion; 
  •  Water the housing surroundings (especially the side facing the front of the fire) and the respective roof;
  • ​Use the cell phone only when essential;
  • Follow the instructions disseminated by the authorities through the media or other warning channels.

 

In case of sudden evacuation to a shelter or collective refuge inside the cluster:

  • Protect the body from flames and heat with suitable clothing (preferably long-sleeved pants and shirt, gloves and scarf to protect the face from heat and fumes);
  • Keep clothes dry (water is a very conductive substance, so wet clothes heat up quickly, which can increase the severity of burns);
  • Always choose the safest way out of the house (ie the one with less smoke and heat). If strictly necessary, cross smoky spaces as close to the ground as possible;
  • Go quickly to the nearest shelter or collective refuge defined within the cluster. Do not go back until further notice.

 

In case of confinement in the dwelling, if it is not possible to escape to a shelter or collective refuge:

  •  Keep calm;
  •  Protect the body from flames and heat with dry (preferably non-synthetic) and suitable clothing (preferably long-sleeved pants and shirt, gloves and scarf to protect the face from heat and fumes);
  • Move the curtains and sofas that are next to the windows away and remove the garden furniture, tarpaulins and firewood that are on the porches or next to the house;
  • If it is safe to do so, disconnect and remove the gas cylinders to a safe place, for example, immersing them in tanks to minimize the risk of explosion; 
  • If it is safe to do so, water the housing’s surroundings (especially the side facing the front of the fire) and the respective roof;
  • Close doors, windows and other openings (eg ventilation grilles) that allow sparks to enter the interior;
  • Place wet towels in the cracks of doors and windows;
  • Stay away from walls;
  • Seek shelter in the rooms at the opposite end of the house in relation to the side where the fire is approaching;
  • Place companion animals in a single room in the house and preferably accompanied. Never release animals to the street; 
  • Use the cell phone only when essential;
  • Wait for the fire to pass and, later, check the existence of fires in the housing envelope and on its roof.

 

FURTHER READING CONCERNING EVACUATIONS

Having taken the steps to safe guard your house using the advice in our Land Cleaning page, next you should make an advanced plan for what you and your family will do when threatened with a rural fire. Remember due limitations of access or weather conditions, the emergency services may not be able to reach you in time so knowing what to do is vitally important – this is known as self protection.

Situations

The circumstances where you may need to leave your house maybe very different, but can grouped as follows:

Self-evacuation” or spontaneous evacuation. This term is associated with situations in which, when a fire is imminent, the person perceives the risk to which he is subject and chooses to leave that place for another considered safe, but without the support of the authorities. This decision may or may not be supported by an alarm or alert.

Supported/Supported Evacuation – deals with the departure of people from their homes and/or their housing complex, by indication of the authorities and with their support, in situations where people do not have their own means to leave that place.

Late evacuation or escape – leaving the houses or agglomeration at risk in the face of the arrival of a fire front in the vicinity of the dwellings.

All rural fire action plans will be different, depending on a variety of issues, needs and situations, so what is listed here are suggestions to help create a plan.

Many people plan to leave for a safer place but leave it too late. You need to identify and agree on a trigger with your family that will prompt you to leave early, and have a back-up plan in case you cannot leave in time.

The key question and decision you will have to make when developing your Action Plan is whether to:

LEAVE EARLY OR STAY AND DEFEND YOUR PROPERTY?

To help you make an informed decision, consider…

  • How well your home is constructed, maintained, prepared and equipped to withstand a rural fire.
  • Contingency plans in case the fire is more intense than expected or things don’t go to plan – rural fires being extremely unpredictable in terms of speed and direction.
  • How long will it take to evacuate?
  • What are the weather conditions?
  • The physical, mental and emotional fitness required by you and your family to cope with the impact of a rural fire. Being in a rural fire could be the most traumatic experience of your life.
  • Who am I putting in danger? Will any children, guests, dependents, elderly or sick household members be put at risk? If so, LEAVE EARLY
  • Am I able to do everything required to fight a fire without the help of firefighters? If not, LEAVE EARLY
  • Does everyone in the household agree with the plan to stay or leave?
  • Am I committed to acquiring the necessary equipment – including an Emergency Kit with protective clothing and fire-fighting equipment? If not, LEAVE EARLY

 

Know the risk indicators that will cause you to act before a fire threatens.

These indicators or ‘calls to action’ again depend on your personal issues, needs and circumstances at the time. However it is very important to predetermine a well thought-through indicator as to when you should leave your home or area in the event of a wildfire. Understanding the risks is vitally important. Make this part of your Rural Fire Action Plan, discussed with all members of your household so everyone is clear about it and the possible evacuation will be achieved safely.

For example, if there are elderly or infirm people, anyone with asthma or similar breathing problems, or children in your household, you may want to act at the very earliest time – even a day or more sooner than a potential wildfire event. In which case, you should closely monitor and act on forecasts of the fire risk categories, particularly if they reach Maximum, Very High, or High in your area.

Other people may be slightly less circumspect and may monitor the information sources, the smell of smoke, wind direction and the presence of fire-fighting aircraft in the area, before deciding to stay or go.

Prepare all the people in your household. Make sure everybody, including children if they are old enough, knows the situation and what steps to take.

A designated meeting location outside the fire area. With many households having more than one car, you may evacuate in separate vehicles and could become separated. Family members may also be in different locations when the fire threatens, so a known safe meeting point is very important to determine that everyone has safely evacuated from the affected area.

The communication plan

Designate an out-of-area friend or relative as a point of contact to act as a single source of communication among family members in case of separation. It is easier to call or message one person and let them contact others than to try and call everyone when phone, cell, and internet systems may not function or be limited during a wildfire.

It is a good idea to create, print and give every household member a hard copy of the Communication Plan, plus put one in the car and in the Emergency Kit. Add the emergency services phone numbers, your phone number, address, the Google Maps GPS co-ordinates of your house, and a sketch of the escape route options you may take.

If you urgently need to call the emergency services, which usually can understand English, pronouncing your address in Portuguese may not be recognised right away, particularly if you are upset and not able to think very straight. Also some rural addresses in Portugal are no more than a village name – no house number or street name, so a GPS co-ordinate will pin-point your house. The Portuguese emergency services can access Google Maps so using this GPS format will be best.

The different escape route plans from your home and/or area. Ideally work out at least two routes, preferably more, and practice driving them if they are not familiar to you already. Program these escape routes into your vehicle GPS device so you know where you are going if the visibility is poor.

Planning wildfire escape routes may be very difficult for many households in rural Portugal where there may be only one, or two at best, exit roads from a village or isolated house, both of which may go several kilometres through thick flammable forest. Then even when you reach a main road, you may need to drive further with forest on either side before you hit that welcome town.

So until the day when adequate roadside firebreaks on all forest escape routes, early fire warning systems, public emergency communication networks, orderly evacuation drills, village fire officers, designated village fire shelters, etc, are all in place in your area, planning to leave early may be the best advice, especially as it is extremely dangerous to leave when roads maybe closed and full of smoke.

Have fire-extinguishers and water hoses handy and make sure everyone in the household knows how to use them.

Ensure everyone knows where the gas, electricity and water shut-off controls are and how to use them if necessary.

Lastly follow the instructions of the emergency services if they are their to help you.

Rural Fire Emergency Kits

When you need to evacuate from a wildfire there may be no time to lose – this is not the time start thinking about what to pack. You must leave your home as soon as physically possible which is why an easy to carry Emergency Kit is a good thing to have on hand and stored in a convenient place.

If there are several people in your household, they should each have their own Emergency Kit – if only a couple, one shared kit should be enough. Backpacks are ideal for storing the necessary items and are quick to grab. Food and water could go in a cool box light enough to easily lift into your car.

Some Considerations

If you have decided to leave for a safer place, you should do so early if it is safe to do so…

  • It is extremely dangerous to leave when roads maybe closed and full of smoke.
  • Rural fires move quickly so make sure you and your family know where your safer place is, how you will get there and when you will go.
  • You need to act the moment you know there is danger – do not wait and see.
  • Driving is very dangerous and stressful during a wildfire with smoke making it hard to see, fallen trees over the road and power lines down.
  • In the fire area, keep all the windows wound up and don’t get out of the car.
  • The speed of the fire could also trap you and burn your vehicle. Cars do not protect you from radiant heat.
  • Do you have electricity, to pump water through a hose? And sufficient water.
  • If you are not able to leave early, staying and sheltering may be your safest option. You will need to actively defend your property regardless of what you planned to do. Preparing your property will give you and your home the best chance of survival.

Portugal Chama (Portugal is Calling)

Government Agency AGIF have produced very clear advice concerning prevention and self protection measures in Portuguese on the website Portugal Chama (Portugal is Calling) under the Safe Village – Safe People program which can be downloaded from their website here.

More information can be obtained by calling 808 200 520.

Understanding How Fires Behave

The Forest Fire Research Centre is a branch of the Association for the Development of Industrial Aerodynamics (ADAI) closely connected to the Department of Mechanical Engineering (DEM) of the Science and Technology Faculty of Coimbra`s University (FCTUC). The Forest Fire Research Centre is mainly dedicated to the applied research in the field of forest fires and fires in the wildland urban interface (WUI) namely the physical aspects of the fire.

Since 1990, the Forest Fire Research Centre, with a dynamic and multidisciplinary team, has been developing its activities in order to learn, analyse, understand, apply and disseminate the knowledge developed.

The main goal of the Forest Fire Research Centre is the promotion of scientific knowledge about the phenomena related to the occurrence and spread of wildfires in order to support the common efforts for the mitigation of their negative impacts

A YouTube video showing their work in English can be downloaded here and in Portuguese here

Safe Communities has met with Professor Domingos Xavier Viegas, Director of ADAI, who has been researcher in the field of Forest Fires namely in Fire behaviour and Fire Safety since 1985. He has kindly undertaken to help Safe Communities Portugal by providing information on this subject, which we can disseminate to local communities. Professor Viegas was the coordinator of the enquiry team into the Pedrógão Grande fires in 2017.

Smoke

  • The General Directorate of Health (DGS) warns of the risks associated with exposure to smoke from forest fires. DGS advice and actions to take are as follows.

In a bulletin in 2018 it stated: “Smoke from fires has high levels of particulate matter and toxins that can have respiratory, cardiovascular and ophthalmological effects, among others. Main symptoms include eye, nose and throat irritation, persistent cough, shortness of breath, pain or tightness in the chest and fatigue”.

The effects of fires can be most felt on pregnant women, children, patients with breathing problems and patients with heart problems, outdoor workers, firefighters and the population involved.

Among the pollutants emitted by fires are particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

In order to protect populations against the main effects of smoke from fires, DGS recommends:

  • Use suitable particle filtration masks, especially for those who need to remain outside, or to protect the mouth and nose with wet wipes;
  • Stay indoors and keep doors and windows tightly closed, reducing air intake from outside. If necessary, seal the windows with wet cloths;
  • Should the situation worsens, the most sensitive groups should be evacuated to equipped with air conditioning systems if possible;
  • Reduce physical activity;
  • Restrict the use of tobacco.
  • After fires maintain the use of damp masks or wipes in ash cleaning operations inside and outside buildings;

 

ANEPC advice if surrounded by a fire is to breathe close to the ground, if possible with a wet cloth, to avoid inhaling smoke

Video Series – Safe Village – Safe people – Self Protection Measures

Safe Communities has assisted the Ministry of Internal Administration in the production of videos with English sub titles showing what action to take if you are affected by a fire. These were updated in 2021 and can be viewed below:

All prevention and protection information is from official sources