Portugal is taking forest fires as a priority
The Portuguese authorities are multiplying their efforts to radically change the way the country fights forest fires. At an organisational level, the government has recently issued two decrees to reorganise the State structures, namely through a new directive (“Single Directive for Prevention and Fighting” of fires) and a new state agency (Agency for Integrated Management of Forest Fires).
The directive aims to strengthen the coordination between the different state authorities engaged in prevention and fighting, namely the Civil Protection (ANC), the Republican Guard (GNR) and the Institute for Conservation of Forests and Nature (ICNF). Although the Firefighters are supported by private, local institutions, they’re also expected to integrate better. The new agency, which will have its own budget only in 2019, will take full control of the existing “System of Integrated Management of Forest Fires”.
On the ground, the government is sending messengers and direct local messages to 6000 Portuguese villages to instruct people about the need to clean up surrounding houses, factories, and other buildings in forest and rural areas. This is mandatory by law.
A new national conscience about fires
Forest fires have been around for more than 30 years, especially in the North and Center of Portugal. There, the abandonment of rural areas and the replacement of native tree types for pine and Australian eucalyptus (for industry purposes) has been harsher. However, one might compare what happened last year, with the fires of June and October, with the story of the Blitz. Portugal has seen several warnings similar to the advances of Hitler against Central European countries. Some people complained about arsonists, some others about the role of eucalyptus.
But 2017 changed everything. Although many people blame the government for not responding quickly, especially in the October fires, the apocalyptical events instilled in people a Blitz-type mentality. Most people realise now that there isn’t a single factor responsible for the phenomenon, and that even climate change can take a role.
This means that the authorities, the media and the public opinion are no longer treating this subject as a seasonal one, which happens in the summer and then vanishes. Portugal vulnerability is now acknowledged, debated and action is being taken during winter months. We would like to think that, as Churchill said, this may be the end of the beginning.