According to data from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF), of the 7,068 hectares of area that burned in the first two months of the year, 81 percent consumed weeds, 18 percent forested areas and 1 percent was agricultural land.

Comparing the reports from previous years available on the ICNF website, since 2001, it was only in 2012 that numbers were higher than those verified this year.

In January and February 2012, also a year of drought, there were about 4,000 fires that led to more than 12,000 hectares of burned area.

Abnormal number

Speaking to the Lusa agency, Duarte Caldeira, president of the Center for Studies and Intervention in Civil Protection, said that “January projects the sum of these two months for an abnormal number of burned areas”, the highest value since 2001.

According to Duarte Caldeira, who is also a member of the observatory created by the Assembly of the Republic to analyse forest fires, 4,707 hectares burned in January due to fires, which broke out mainly in the North region, in the districts of Braga and Viana do Castelo.

The former president of the League of Portuguese Firefighters and the National School of Firefighters considered that this high number of fires in the first two months of the year is “directly associated with the severity of the drought”.

“A very dangerous year”

“Whenever there have been periods of severe drought like the one we are experiencing, those periods of the year have always been problematic,” he said, anticipating “a very dangerous year” of fires.

Duarte Caldeira stressed that “if this situation continues for a longer period” it could be “a very dangerous year, both in terms of the number of occurrences, taking into account the dryness of the soil, and the burned area”.

The forest fire specialist also defended that the problem of risk “should not be associated with special seasonal actions, but as something that one has to be prepared to deal with at all times”.

“One should not be held hostage to the calendar, as has been the practice for many years,” he concluded.

Currently, firefighting means are available throughout the year, but in smaller numbers, with the Special Device for Combating Forest Fires (DECIR) being presented during the month of April and the first reinforcement taking place from 15 May.