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Portugal’s long blazing Summer

FireGoisMany people ask themselves why Portugal is plagued by more wildfires than larger countries in Europe, which is as much as half of the total acreage lost to flames across the rest of the European Union, writes Jay Fernandes.

As consequence of the social and economic transformation that took place in Portugal over the last 50 years, when it  joined the European Community, Portugal become one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, most of the land privately owned.

The exposure  to the European economic globalization led to the demise of the traditional agriculture, with the  younger generation migrating  to the cities, to benefit from job opportunities and better education , resulting in   the depopulation of remote villages and fewer farmers cultivating the  fields.

The traditional farming communities of grapes, olives and cork vanished and the land was sold off to the  forest industry companies, the outcome being  that many wooded areas became untended and fewer farm animals grazed on otherwise flammable underbrush.

Eucalyptus and gum trees now cover a quarter of all forested land in Portugal fetching very lucrative  crops  for paper and pulp industry, making the country largest producer  and exporter of eucalyptus pulp in Europe.

The downside is that eucalyptus burn faster and hotter, making wildfires harder to control , unlike no other trees they endure fire and  grow up again like no other plant.

Successive governments have tried to create laws to control the areas  of eucalyptus  plantations but the paper industry is fighting  any legislation which would cost thousands of jobs and hurt Portugal’s economy.

Another important cause of the recent uncontrolled wildfires is that 65 %  of Portugal is facing one the worst  droughts in  consecutive years , combined with the  intense heat wave  ever recorded high temperatures in excess of 40 °C (104 °F) , which preceded the fires.

Strategies of  prevention, such  as controlled burning and establishment of fire breaks has not been comprehensively  implemented because there is lack of manpower in the villages of the interior of the country with predominating elderly population.

A sinister angle to this panorama  is that most wildfires have started and reactivated during the night, which points to a “criminal hand” that may have been behind the deadly flames that have raged through central Portugal.

All these are unfortunate ingredients that make Portugal highly vulnerable to  long blazing Summers.

The Portuguese Government has recently declared the situation a National Calamity which grants powers to the executive to activate legislative mechanisms and to coordinate civil and militarized resources to try to face the present serious circumstances in the country.





Reproduced with kind permission of Jay Fernandes

Original article appeared on the Senhor Cabo website http://senhorcabo.com/

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0 #8 Joe K 2017-08-28 14:14
Quoting Chip:
"Many people ask themselves why Portugal is plagued by more wildfires than larger countries in Europe..."

Many people answer "Arson".

Quoted from Portuguese Civil Protection Agency Report last week end.
1% off Fires - Natural Effect's
40% off Fires - Stupidity & Fireworks
59% off Fires - Arson
0 #7 Chip 2017-08-27 11:04
"Many people ask themselves why Portugal is plagued by more wildfires than larger countries in Europe..."

Many people answer "Arson".
+3 #6 dw 2017-08-24 11:38
Eucalyptus monoculture is an environmental disaster, but there is the question of why so many fires start in Portugal. I have read that the number of fires started is in the tens of thousands (can't remember over what period, 10 or 20 years maybe). Who is starting the fires and why? Are some profiting from these fires? If so how?
+8 #5 Peter Booker 2017-08-24 08:56
It is mainly the eucalyptus plantations which are not only burning, but endangering the lives and livelihoods of those who live close to them. The entities which own these eucalyptus forests should shoulder more of the burden of combatting the consequent fires.

They should be made to create adequate firebreaks, and employ their own firefighting force. Or make an increased contribution towards that of the state.
+7 #4 mj1 2017-08-24 08:02
Perhaps portugal likes to spend money on white elephant faro football stadiums, or bankrupt motor racing tracks than expand its fleet of fire fighting aircraft which they only have recently done but because of the delay won't be available for years
+9 #3 Neil M 2017-08-23 17:46
Hundreds of years ago there were very few forest fires in Portugal. One of the reasons for this could be that, there were animals grazing the land. This is not the case today, there are no sheep or goats grazing in the vast forested area's. These animals did what nature intended them to do, and that was to keep vegetation short.
I spoke with a Shepherd in the North of Portugal last year, he has a large herd of sheep, but finds it difficult to find land to rent for the purpose of grazing the sheep. The result is that he has to keep the number of his flock small. This doesn't make economic sense as he could produce more cheese if he had more land.
Government could consider, re-establishing herds of sheep and goats, in vast forest areas of the country, encouraging people to take up work as Shepherds and grazing these areas freely and therefore reducing the material that causes fires in the first place.
+9 #2 liveaboard 2017-08-23 12:06
Eucalyptus cultivation is the eco whipping boy of the hour; the reality is that native pine burns quite well too.

Tree cultivation makes money, and if required to do so, some of that money will be spent to manage the forest.

Clear underbrush, maintain firebreaks and access roads, and so on.

The norm is some thick wads of ponderous legislation that won't be enforced. On the other hand, insurance reform would be relatively simple.
Insurance must always pay below the day value of the claim, and insurance companies should take on the safety inspections.
They have the most to lose, and to gain.
+8 #1 Jack Reacher 2017-08-23 11:36
Until one makes crimes against the environment a serious offence, which includes deliberately setting light to anything forestry related, then these outbreaks will continue on an annual basis.
Can someone list all the forms of punishment dished out to the arsonists not just from Portugal, but Spain, Madeira and Canary Islands? And then put a Euro cost in damages and deaths against their names.

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