Wildfires are annual scourge for the southern country
23 June, 2017
Portugal's leading environmental lobby group, Quercus, blamed the blazes on "forest management errors and bad political decisions" by governments over recent decades. It rebuked authorities for allowing the planting of huge swathes of eucalyptus trees - the country's most common and most profitable species - but one that's often blamed for stoking blazes. Wildfires are an annual scourge in Portugal. Between 1993 and 2013, Portugal recorded the highest annual number of forest fires in southern Europe, according to a report last year by the European Environment Agency.
The government announced a raft of new measures against wildfires in March. They included restrictions on eucalyptus plantations and a simplified and cheaper programme of property registration that seeks to ascertain which land is being neglected. Not all of those reforms have come into force yet.
Fire experts pointed to a series of shortcomings in Portugal's strategy of tackling wildfires, even though the summer blazes have been happening for decades. There is a broad consensus that more work is needed on fire prevention, starting with forest clearing and the creation of fire breaks.
"In Portugal, the main factor in the scale of wildfires is the unbroken stretches of forest," Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal's Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University, told the AP.
Statistics show that 35% of Portugal is covered by woodland, slightly above the EU average of 31%. The forest industry, especially the production of paper pulp, accounts for around 3% of the country's GDP.