Business Standard

Forest fires threaten Portugal

IANS  |  Lisbon 

Portugal's fire protection agency after conducting a study has found that the country is at high risk of forest fires in around 20 regions.

"The risk of forest fires in Portugal keeps growing, which isn't helped by the government's negligence," Xinhua quoted Jaime Marta Soares, president of the Portuguese Fireman League, as saying Wednesday.

The Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute has five levels of risk, from reduced to maximum, and the study was carried out by observing different variables every day at 1 p.m., including the temperature of the air, relative humidity, speed of wind and precipitations occurring in the last 24 hours.

The National Authority for Civil Protection (ANPC) registered 69 fires in Portugal Tuesday, fought by 1,012 firefighters with the help of 282 vehicles.

Since Tuesday night there have already been 25 forest fires, according to the ANPC.

Portugal's Minister for Agriculture and Sea Assuncao Cristas announced Tuesday that three million euros would be donated to the Permanent Forestry Fund (FFP) to help prevent the fires.

The government also signed a protocol with the ministry of internal administration and with the ministry of agriculture and sea Tuesday which allows around 2,000 unemployed citizens to take part in firefighting activities.

"The greater the integration of citizens, the easier it becomes to create a network of connections and opportunities which could arise in the labour market," said Employment and Solidarity Minister Pedro Mota Soares during the signing for the renewal of the protocol, before adding that it would also "help to preserve" the country's forests.

But Soares blamed the government's "negligence" in carrying out sufficient planning while also pointing to human caused fires.

"The risk of forest fires has accentuated year on year due to atmospheric changes," he said. "We have seen higher temperatures and low humidity levels and rainy winters, among other factors and this force of nature makes programming very complicated."

However, Soares said that although the fires are due to a number of factors, the government could do more to prevent the fires.

The damages caused by five big fires last year, in Caramulo, Picoes, Trancoso, Mondim and Basto e Covilha, cost the country around 34 million euros (or $47 million), according to the country's National Statistics Institute (INE).

This represents two percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), having affected over 27,918 hectares -- around 0.3 percent of the territory, according to the INE.

Last year nine firefighters were killed while putting out fires in Portugal.

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First Published: Thu, May 15 2014. 00:50 IST