During this time of the year, we often see bonfires in the countryside, or even when we’re driving on the road. This phenomenon, which starts now and continues up to around mid-March, gives the opportunity to owners to clean their land with the main goal of preventing fires next summer.

However there are many rules that we must follow to ensure that everything is safe and to avoid the risk of fire. The Portugal News spoke with David Thomas, President of Safe Communities Portugal, to understand more about the topic.

TPN: Why do we find bonfires everywhere at this time of the year?
DT: We often see people having fires at this time of the year as land owners begin to prepare for the next season by ensuring that their land is cleared (known as fuel management) in order to prevent the spread of fires near their property, as well as disposing of vegetation in preparation for the planting of new crops for next year.

TPN: Which rules are important to know about bonfires?
DT: Recently the laws have been tightened up and during most periods you need to inform the authorities concerned beforehand. When the rural fire risk in your municipality is Low, Moderate or High, it is necessary to notify either the ICNF through its website or by contacting 808 200 520 or the local Fire Department. They will ask you various questions including the location of the fire, date/time, material you are burning and contact details for example. You will then be registered and you will receive notification, with guidance regarding the safety measures that apply.

If the rural fire risk is very high or maximum, however, or during the Critical Fire Period (normally between 1 July to 30 September) “authorisation” is required using the same process.
In both cases, having either been notified by the authorities or obtained permission, if the weather conditions subsequently change before the burning you will be notified accordingly.

TPN: Bonfires can be a risk? Why?
DT: So far the this year over half of rural fires were caused by people undertaking the burning of cut and piled waste or through extensive burning of uncut scrubs and then allowing the fire to get out of control.

Often this is because people may be unaware, or not follow the safety precautions. The main ingredients that determine how fires start, their intensity and rate of spread are the weather conditions.

When its hot, the humidity is low and the wind is strong, this poses a greater risk – so avoid these periods. Also at the end of the summer season if there has been very little rain, as is the case this year, the land is very dry and the risk therefore increases. In fact some of the worst fires have been towards the end of the year.

In undertaking a controlled burn it is essential to follow the safety instructions in particular: avoid burning in windy conditions; avoid burns on slopes, start early in the morning when the humidity is usually higher; ensure that it is monitored; keep you mobile phone with you, have a water supply close by; make sure it is properly extinguished and notify the relevant authority afterwards.

TPN: What advice would you give to a person with little experience who wants to start a bonfire on their property?
DT: It is important that anyone contemplating burning debris is physically capable of doing so. If the person has any doubts, the advice is not to do so without obtaining help. It is possible to request assistance in the online application from the ICNF. There is no qualification required to burn debris, but it is important that in doing so all the safety rules are followed. It is important to note that if your fire becomes out of control causing damage to property or worse, it becomes a criminal offence with heavy penalties.

More information at: www.safecommunitiesportugal.com/civilprotection/rural