Good news arrived last week. According to the latest data available, so far this year there has been the lowest number of rural fires and the second lowest in terms of area burned since 2011. So far this year, until September 30 , 7,253 rural fires were recorded, resulting in 26,838 hectares (ha) of area burned, according to the Ministry of Internal Administration.
Most of the fires that occurred this year were small and consumed an area of less than one hectare, with only two fires occurring, in the municipalities of Castro Marim and Monchique, with an area burned greater than or equal to 1,000 hectares .
Of course, one fire is one too many, but the fact that this number is the lowest in 10 years shows that we are moving in the right direction. This compares to an annual average of 15,351 rural fires, corresponding to an annual average of 96,950 hectares of area burned, for the period 2011-2021 between January and September.
In 2017, there were more than half a million hectares of area burned between January and December.
The effect of extreme weather conditions is felt in several ways and one of them is increasingly drier and hot summers. One of the tools that fire commanders and analysts use in fighting fires is the FWI – the Rural Fire Risk Index. This determines the ease with which fires start and spread. The higher the number, the more likely it is to spread quickly with an increased potential to cover a larger area.
In the Algarve this year, national records have been broken twice with an FWI level well above 100 in some areas. It reaches its maximum level when it reaches 64. The risks can be extreme and we must act accordingly.
Causes of fires in rural areas
Regarding the causes of fires in rural areas, the most common cause of those surveyed in 2021 is the careless use of fire (48%), namely prescribed burns that have become uncontrollable.
The use of fire in the Mediterranean area has a recognized value when it is associated with agricultural and forestry practices, in particular the incineration of piled up waste and large-scale prescribed burns. However, in some cases these activities can get out of hand, leading to major fires with serious ecological and socio-economic consequences. In mainland Portugal, around 98% of incidents are caused by people.
It should be noted that on October 1 of this year, the day after the end of the critical period, the number of fires doubled, probably due to negligence in carrying out prescribed burns. This is why safety is so important if we are to avoid the risk of such fires causing extensive damage and possibly injury or worse.
Types of controlled burns
(Queimas) – the use of fire to remove accumulated waste resulting from forestry or agricultural operations, such as pruning vines and olive trees, among others.
During the critical period and outside the critical period, on days of very high or maximum risk, the burning of waste is prohibited without prior authorization from the City Council of Câmara, by calling 808 200 520 or via the website of the ICNF.
Outside the critical period, whenever the risk of fire is high, moderate or low, it is sufficient to communicate and register the burn at the Câmara town hall, at 808 200 520 or via the website of the ICNF by informing beforehand. For repeated burns, you can download an application (Android only) using a QR code from the ICNF site: https://fogos.icnf.pt/InfoQueimasQueimadas/QUEIMASQUEIMADAS.aspx
(Queimadas) – the use of fire to restore pasture or remove stubble and wastes from forestry and agricultural operations, cuttings and unstacked garbage.
Whatever the time of year and the risk, controlled burns require prior authorization from the Municipality of Câmara. This can also be done online using the ICNF page or by calling the same number as above. Without authorization and adequate technical monitoring (by a qualified technician in prescribed burning and a team of forest firefighters or firefighters), prescribed burning is considered an arson and is punishable by a fine.
Safety measures during controlled burns
If you are asking someone else, such as a local farmer, to undertake the burn for you, make sure that the proper authorization has been obtained or that the registration has been completed. This is your land, and you could be held responsible if this was not followed.
So how can we continue the good work?
The ICNF (Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests) has provided some very useful safety measures (shown in the table), which, if followed, will allow you to burn safely during times when it is necessary. authorized, without the risk of the fire becoming uncontrolled and threatening your life, your property and those of others.
Rural fire prevention is everyone’s responsibility and actions to be avoided include, for example, dropping lighted cigarettes, using a barbecue in an unauthorized area or careless use of gardening tools. motorized.
We can all make a difference by following rural fire prevention and safety measures.
TOP TEN TIPS FOR A SAFE BURN
– Make sure, before you start, that you have the necessary authorization / registration.
– Burn early in the morning, when humidity is higher, which also makes it possible to extinguish the fire well before nightfall. Keep in mind that embers can last for several hours (or more) leading to re-ignitions.
– Always have a cell phone with you.
– Preferably provide two people to carry out the burning.
– Watch the fire – don’t leave it unattended.
– Have a water point nearby.
– Make sure that the area around the burn is free of vegetation to prevent its spread.
– Make several small piles instead of a large one.
– Never burn in windy conditions or when the ground is on a steep slope.
– Despite these measures, if the fire gets out of control, call 112 immediately.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Hong Kong Deputy Police Commissioner, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered under the name of Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its kind in Portugal.
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