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Fires - the President is right, but…

FireLeiriaSmallCarsPresident Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is right to say that it is important to avoid forest fires. Fires cost many lives and about five billion euros a year, writes Jack Soifer.

However the story has been repeated over the past twenty years; showing that this is a basic problem that can not be solved simply by improving command management, firefighters' qualifications and more equipment.

The president of the Fire Brigades Association is right in saying that the recent report into the summer fires is incomplete, because the most important thing is prevention, not firefighting.

A bad administrator fights problems, a good one predicts and avoids them. Ask a director what he needs to improve his job, he will say "more means." Ask an employee next to the end customer, he will say "a better manager." Ask the end customer, who ultimately pays for everything, he will say "another system."

The worst thing to do is ignore the good and copy the bad.

Hundreds of fires started on the same day? On July 7th the Vida Economica newspaper published:

"We need to change the law and make this a CRIME AGAINST THE SECURITY of the Country with 25 years in prison. Use old methods to find out who is behind this; there are huge economic and other interests behind the person being interrogated.

"Whoever pays for the fires to be set is a traitor to the nation! Change the constitution, use temporary electronic wristbands on those suspected of starting fires that show if they enter prohibited zones."

Fire-damaged wood and cork are bought up at one third of the regular price by the near-monopoly cork company and the pulp industry cartel.

The contracts for the fire fighting aeroplanes and helicopters, supplied in a cosy deal rather than in an open competition, are frequently questioned by the Court of Auditors. Should the summer fire report not have focused on these?

The newspaper also wrote: "to detect evidence of forest fires, use drones with cameras that send pictures to a command centre. There are nano-cameras on long thin poles at the peak of mountains; the photos are interpreted by software and integrated with the speed and direction of the winds in each valley in the risk zone. Alerts are sent to firefighters who are ready to water before the fire spreads."

And more: chiefs give "the impression of effectiveness by issuing details such as the number and type of vehicles and firefighters, etc. They do not say what they did to avoid the tragedy. TV prefers the sensationalism of flames, rather than the peace of prevention."

"There are nano-cameras on thin posts on the top of mountains..."

Who wants nothing to change after 25 years of fires and to adopt the available technology? Those who spend billions of taxpayers' money on equipment. Intelligence is used to avoid, not fight."

"The fires will continue. It is much cheaper for some giga-enterprises to buy burned land and change the ecological or agricultural classification to urban building land and for another to buy cheap 'damaged' wood for cork and paper production."

When one reads prestigious papers in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, for example, it is clearly not the incompetence of command and failures in the system, but the idea that corruption dominates this sector with the approval of those leaders who insist on fire fighting rather than prevention.

Swedish papers write that in Portugal "they are used to forest fires. Since the beginning of this year they have had 8,000 fires, 75,000 hectares of forest has been destroyed."

In Germany: "In Portugal, forest fires are a constant in the summer and this year is the worst in the country's history. Former politicians like Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso in 2003, Interior Minister Rui Pereira in 2010 and Prime Minister Passos Coelho in 2013 did not ... implement the necessary changes announced."

Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote: "experts point to fundamental problems in fire prevention in Portugal, which has suffered the largest loss of forest area in the EU." And the WFF: "the number of forest fires has risen tenfold in 25 years, to 35,697 in 2015.”

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