Fires: Fuel management policy without scientific basis


Coimbra, 10 Dec 2023 (Lusa) – A research project in Coimbra concluded that there is no significant difference in fire behaviour between managed and unmanaged areas close to infrastructure, and revealed a lack of scientific support for the current fuel management policy.

“We were unable to prove, in statistical terms, that there is a statistically significant difference between managed areas and unmanaged areas [next to infrastructure],” Joaquim Sande Silva, who coordinated the InduForestFire research project, together with João Paulo Rodrigues, told Lusa. .

For the researcher and professor at the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra, the review of the legislation around fuel management bands that came out in 2018, after the large fires that had occurred the previous year, “was not produced with any scientific basis, nor experts in the field were not even consulted to produce this legislation.”

InduForestFire, focused on supporting political decisions for the mitigation of urban-forest interface fires, is led by Itecons – Institute of Research and Technological Development for Construction, Energy, Environment and Sustainability of the University of Coimbra (responsible for the structural component) and by the Escola Superior Agrária of the Polytechnic of Coimbra (forestry component).

In the forestry component, the team focused on fuel management and the forest composition around infrastructures, “with the backdrop of the legislation currently in force and in the process of being reviewed and amended”.

The results and technical recommendations of this scientific project will be presented on Monday, at the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra, between 9:00 am and 5:30 pm.

Phot:  A resident watches the progression of a wildfire in Linhares, Celorico da Beira in Portugal on August 11, 2022. (AFP)

According to the researcher, the legislation currently in force forced “highly debatable work”, with trees of high heritage value being “thrown down”, without any scientific support that could demonstrate that these same trees would be a threat to the safety of people and infrastructure. .

“We wanted to compare fire behaviour within managed areas and in an adjacent unmanaged area. We did this in ten different locations in the Central region and, in statistical terms, we found no difference in fire behaviour between the managed and unmanaged areas,” he said.

The researcher highlighted that, in the managed strips, vegetation is reduced, but, as they are more open areas, wind speed tends to increase in these locations and the material is “drier and the temperature on the ground is higher”.

For Joaquim Sande Silva, if you reduce the size of fuels, you end up increasing “the conditions for propagation”.

From the teacher’s perspective, there was some haste in the legislation that came out in 2018, in reaction to the large fires that had occurred the previous year.

In addition to analysing fire behaviour in fuel management zones, the project team also analysed fire behaviour in a hardwood area.

Using fire simulations, but using input data “very close to reality”, with field collection of fuel characteristics and micrometeorology data, it was possible to conclude “that it is more advantageous to have a hardwood cover than to have just one open field”, he stated.

Furthermore, the researcher highlighted that Portugal currently has “a big problem with invasive species”, such as acacias, and concluded that there is a preference for their colonization “in these fuel management zones”. .

“The maintenance of these strips is very unsustainable, from a financial point of view, and, on the other hand, with hardwoods, there is a maintenance of shade that ensures that very little or nothing grows underneath”, he stressed, giving the example of Mata da Margaraça, in Arganil, where the October 2017 fire occurred, but where the behaviour was very different – ​​a low fire that ended up extinguishing as soon as it reached the wetter areas of the forest.