In October last year, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, had already stressed in the balance sheet for the 2020 fireworks season that the number of fires and the area of fire had fallen for the third year in a row – and in the case of the last, the last. But this Thursday, the day of an extraordinary Council of Ministers, which will have the President of the Republic as a guest and the forest as a theme, the government wanted to recall these figures again.
A communication from the Agency for Integrated Fighting Rural Fires (AGIF) to the media stresses that over the past three years the number of fires and the area of fire have halved, with 9,690 fires leading to 67,000 fires in 2020. Hectares of burned land. Compared to the last ten years (2008-2017), in which 2017 was particularly important, when only the June 17 and October 15 fires caused 109 deaths and 320 injuries, this development corresponds to 2018, 2019 and in 2020 a 56% reduction in the number of fires and a 64% reduction in area burned.
“After 2017, there was also a significant downward trend in the loss of life related to fires in rural areas,” says AGIF.
The government’s gesture of institutional courtesy towards Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa at the end of his first mandate – and similar to the Council of Maritime Ministers, which bid farewell to Cavaco Silva in 2016 – enables the executive to finally accept forests as a problematic dossier in relations with Belém to bury.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa publicly urged the resignation of the 2017 Minister of Internal Administration, Constança Urbano de Sousa, due to the tragic aftermath of the fires that year, and later said that if there was another similar year it would be himself as head of state, in Considering not being able to run for the second term – for which he was elected last January. This fact was brought to mind by Eduardo Cabrita in December when he was confronted with statements from Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa indicating that the President of the Republic believed that the minister would not be able to reform the Immigration and border service imposed for directing the murder of Ukrainian citizen Ihor Homenyuk. Cabrita therefore indicated that the president could only run for a second term based on the results he had achieved in the Home Office on fire safety. “Zero lost civilian lives,” he said about 2020.
In any case, about a month later, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, already as a candidate for a second term in the presidency, guaranteed that he had never asked the minister to resign and that he could testify that he had done a “flawless” job of preventing the conditions Fires.
Aside from political and institutional fires, the Council of Forest Ministers also allows the government to draw attention to these numbers, which it attributes to the measures to combat rural fires it adopted after the tragedy of 2017, which according to AGIF is 89% complete.
AGIF notes that over 90% of municipal plans to defend the forest against fire have been approved to protect the population and that the SIRESP communications network and air, land and human means of fighting fires have been strengthened. The operational combat coordination was also strengthened.
“Despite the short term efforts and the major measures being taken, there is still a long way to go in the next decade to ensure that Portugal is protected from major fires, as set out in the vision of the National Plan for Integrated Management of Rural Fires through the national action program 2020–2030, ”the statement said.
AGIF also highlights the surge in investment in fire prevention and control in rural areas, which has doubled over the past three years from 143 million euros in 2017 to 289 million in 2020, with investments totaling 143 million euros a year In 2017, only 20% was spent on prevention, while of the 289 million in 2020, 45% was spent on prevention.
The balance sheet also recalls the burn and fire support mechanisms created to reduce ignitions through the support of pastors who have joined 43. A phone line (808 200 520) was also set up, which received 168,000 calls (140% more than last year) and a digital platform was also created.
“Military patrols in the areas of forest surveillance and public awareness (3,052 patrols in 2020) should be highlighted. Last year 6,257 reports, 4,892 crimes and 51 were arrested for forest fire crimes. According to AGIF, the GNR 4172 carried out proximity awareness activities, which affected 60,622 people, and launched the Portugal Chama national campaign to clean up vegetation, safe villages and risky behavior.
In order to implement fuel management in risky locations, priority communities with a fire likelihood in areas greater than 250 hectares were identified. According to the AGIF, 168,662 hectares were treated from 2018 to 2020, “and in 2020 73,833 hectares were fueled (14% more than in 2019)”.