Land cleaning ‘Fuel Management’

UPDATE 17th March 2021
The deadline for land cleaning has been extended from the 15th March to 15th May 2021

Decree 22-A/2021 published 17th March 2021 states:

“In view of the special difficulties created by the pandemic environment in the context of fuel management work, it was decided to extend the deadline, until May 15, 2021, so that individuals, forest producers and land and infrastructure management entities perform fuel management work”

Safety in cleaning land – fuel management.

It is important that all safety steps are taken when carrying out fuel management works especially burning debris and use of machinery in high temperatures. These are explained further down this page.

Fuel management is the reduction of plant and woody material in order to make it difficult for fire to spread vertically and horizontally. In summary, it means cutting grass, shrubs and trees in some areas – known as cleaning .

When the fire reaches the areas where the fuel management has been carried out, it will decrease in intensity. Houses and villages are therefore safer as a result. It also means that firefighters can intervene more effectively and safely where fuel management has been carried out.

Those who own a house in the country or in the forest are more vulnerable to fires because of the proximity of vegetation. The law states that all the owners, tenants, users and entities that own lands located in rural areas, even if they are not the owners of the buildings, are obliged to undertake fuel management.

Also responsible for fuel management are the entities responsible for the road, rail and electric networks, among others, as well as the management entities of industrial areas, campsites, logistics centres and other infrastructures.

This page is there to help people comply with these rules and restriction.

The new Agency for the Integrated Management of Rural Fires (AGIF) has produced information on land cleaning in Portuguese which can be downloaded here and a video which can be downloaded here.

Decree Law 16/2019 introduces changes by requiring registration to burn debris and approval process for pasture renewal burning. This page gives details.


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
It is mandatory to carry out the management of fuels in a minimum range of 50 meters around the buildings or facilities (dwellings, yards, warehouses, workshops, factories or other equipment) located in rural spaces. This is known as the “defensible space”. This range is measured from the outer masonry of the building. In the case of population clusters (10 or more houses) this range extends up to 100 meters. Please note that the deadline for fuel management has been deferred from 15th March to 30th April as a result of the Sate Of Emergency due to the coronavirus

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 4 m. In maritime pine and eucalyptus stands, the minimum distance between tree-crowns must be, at least, of 10 m.
  2. Prune trees 4 m 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 5 m away from the buildings and treetops must not extend over the roof, (except fruit trees and protected species).
  4. Shrubs must not be higher than 50 centimetres.
  5. Do not keep firewood debris or any type of inflammable material within this area. measures do not apply to properly cared -for gardens and farmland (except fallow land and permanent grazing land).

As fires are in recent years have occurred earlier in the year, steps were put in place with revised legislation last year 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 as shown in the drawing above. (Please see extension to 30th April above)

The deadline of 31st May, 2019 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. laws for reference

Decree Law no 114/2017 29th December

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.


More detailed reading – 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:

The distance between the canopies of the trees must be at least 10 metres for 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.

For 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 1 m 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 Areas of interface between forest and urban areas are of high risk and fuel management is essential. It is mandatory to clean and cut trees 100 meters around villages, campsites, industrial parks, logistics platforms and landfills. Duly maintained gardens and agricultural areas (except fallow or permanent pasture) are not required to comply with the above measures.
  • 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. Do not attempt to do this yourself as this can risk electrocution.
  • 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 this fails alert the competent authorities to this situation, namely the GNR and the Town Hall. You can also use the telephone number 808 200 520 or the website to report the situation.

The GNR is responsible for the fiscalistion 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:

  1. Your full names, address of your property, residency number, fiscal number and contact details.
  2. The location of the offending property, with a description of the problem and if you know the types of trees or bushes involved.
  3. Supplement this if possible with a satellite image from Google Earth with coordinates showing the offending property,
  4. bearing in mind this will unlikely show the condition of the land.
  5. Photos taken showing the current state of the property.
  6. 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.
  7. If you can write this in Portuguese that is preferable – try and get a friend to help
  8. Date the correspondence and keep a copy.
  9. 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.

Latest for 2020

Priority areas for inspections

Dated 26th January 20120

For 2020 the Government has designated parishes at category one or two risk.
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. For 2020 a total of 1114 are Priority. List of parishes and Priority map for 2020 here

How will the laws are enforced

In 2017, some 1686 people were fined for not managing their land, which rose to over 6000 in 2018. 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 30th April 2020. These awareness campaigns are being coordinated by AGIF through and 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 30th April 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.

Action under “Operation Safe Forest 2019” ,developed by the GNR through the Service of Protection of Nature and the Environment (SEPNA) and the Protection and Relief Intervention Group, includes creating and providing clarification to the population as well as identifying areas which need to be cleaned, recording their geo-referencing in order this is carried out. out.

This prevention work is being done by April 1, identifying these lands, and from there, the security forces will return to the locations to check whether or not this cleaning was done. It is then communicated to the councils for the months of April and May to carry out this work itself

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

Over half the fires in 2018 were caused by burning of debris and extensive burning getting out of control. 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.

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. 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. During 2018 over half the fires were as a result of burning that went out of control.

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 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.

Law change 2019

During the Critical fire period (1st July to 30th September) the law revised in 2019 states

It is PROHIBITED to do Extensive Burning without AUTHORIZATION. Register the application. Inquire at your Municipal Council or at 808 200 520.

It is PROHIBITED to make burning of piled-up waste without AUTHORIZATION. Register for the application. Inquire at your Municipal Council or at 808 200 520.

Controlled burning –Decree Law 16/2019

This new law concerns the requirement to register to burn piles of debris Queimas and seeking approval for pasture renewal burning Queimadas

Burning Debris

Previously people were required to contact the local Bombeiros – THIS IS NO LONGER THE CASE

The system is now as follows:
People should complete the on line process requiring registration through the ICNF website by providing the details of when you wish to burn. Details will be registered on a data base and you will receive a text or email confirming this with relevant information for the day you wish to burn.

During the application process you may request assistance from the Bombeiros to attend if you feel need help to undertake this safely.

Alternatively you can contact a central telephone number 808 200 520 and provide similar information, or you can contact your local Camara.

Under the new law you may burn debris in the Critical Fire Period (a change from before), BUT ONLY WITH FORMAL APPROVAL. Application is the same as above.

In the case of Queimdas (pasture renewal burning) a permit must be obtained through online application or to the Camara.

The purpose of the new law is to ensure that there is better control and information to the emergency services concerning controlled burning.

In the registration process you will be asked a number of questions questions such as the date, exacted location 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. You maybe asked 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. This can be done through the on-line process or by application to the local Camara. 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

Safe Communities Portugal has translated the ICNF User Manual to burning Queimas and Queimadas into English which can be downloaded from the ICNF website here.

Safety in fuel management
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.

Safe use of equipment

Special care must be taken when using machinery to clean land especially in high temperatures:

  1. Avoid refuelling where there is vegetation that may ignite – do this in cooler areas away from vegetation
  2. Fuel should be kept well away from areas of vegetation
  3. Do not leave equipment running unattended
  4. When the fire risk is extreme it is prohibited to use metal bladed cutting machinery
  5. Ensure the machinery is well maintained and in a good state of repair
  6. Wear protective goggles
  7. Always have a water supply close by
  8. Preferably do not undertake such work alone

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