Summer wildfires, a risk in Portugal

A wildfire burning near the town of Tomar in Central Portugal, Sept. 2, 2019. It was one of many fires in the area last year.

Planning to move to Portugal? Consider the risk of wildfires.Central and northern Portugal are more fire prone because of the amount of vegetation. You can check fire conditions daily to see high risk areas and active fire locations. The Fogos.pt website also shows details of the firefighting response by the “bombeiros.”

My first summer in Portugal I heard a lot about fires. I’d only been in my house a few days when I saw a huge plume of smoke billowing on the horizon. The fire, near Vila de Rei, was one of about eight wildfires I saw over the next two months.

Coming from New Mexico, I was only too familiar with wildfires. While I lived in Albuquerque, we’d had the devastating Cerro Grande fire in 2000 and the Las Conchas fire in 2011. Both were in forested mountain areas near Los Alamos. They burned for days and days. I remember the fiery glow in the sky and the ash that turned the Rio Grande black. At times the skies turned brown from huge fires in Arizona.

Fast response times

So, I was very impressed when each time I spotted a plume of smoke from my new Portuguese home, I quickly saw planes zooming toward the spot to dump water on the blaze. Within hours the smoke disappeared. Kudos to the Portuguese fire fighters, the bombeiros.

A fire near Ferreira de Zézere in Central Portugal, July 2020. Fire fighting planes were quickly in the air and the smoke disappeared within a few hours.

Unfortunately, Portugal has one of the highest incidences of wildfires of any country in Europe. The reasons are not hard to understand. Most of the countryside, particularly in the center and north of the country, is covered in heavy vegetation. Although there is usually abundant rainfall during autumn and winter months, summers are long and hot. Within a few weeks, the landscape is tinder dry. Add to that, large regions covered with eucalyptus trees which are high in combustible oils and burn rapidly.

In the devastating fire season of 2017, there were more than 500,000 hectares (about 1.2 million acres) burned, hundreds of homes were lost and more than a hundred people died. Following that, the Portuguese government enacted numerous laws to try to prevent a recurrence of such tragedies.

The Critical Fire Period is 1 July to 30 Sept. During that time it is illegal it is to have bonfires, barbecues, fireworks, and use machinery that may emit sparks such as chainsaws.

The Portuguese government also passed laws requiring that trees and brush must be cleared from roads to create a 10-meter buffer zone on either side. Landowners and homeowners are also required to clear potentially flammable vegetation from an area of 50 meters around their immediate property.

Where to get information

For information about cleaning your land and other protection related measures, call 808 200 520. Use this number for registering to burn debris. You can also contact your local Câmara or register online through www.icnf.pt. More information is available from the Safe Communities Portugal website (Civil Protection/Rural fires/Land Cleaning).

You can also receive fire danger alerts via text on your mobile phone. If you live in a high risk area, keep an emergency kit packed in case of an evacuation order.

Author: Rosalie Rayburn

Rosalie Rayburn is an author, blogger, world traveler and avid cyclist. She moved to Portugal from the US in 2019 and writes a blog about how to make your retirement dream in Portugal come true.

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