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Thinking on our foreign citizens and tourists living or staying in Portugal, we decided to translate our previous page into English to allow anyone to be informed. If there is any mistakes or wrong translations, please use our e-mail in contacts section to correct us, and hopefully, deliver this information to anyone non Portuguese speaker. Information is needed, and when complied, future fires won’t become a (bigger) problem.

Please read carefully, and use this as guide for your stay in this country, allowing you the complete information.

Every summer, wildfire scourge affects Portugal and all its inhabitants, direct or indirectly. Millions of euros are spent on fighting, training and setting up teams for immediate fire-fighting, as well on awareness campaigns, detection and surveillance of our forest.

The year 2017 was, without any doubt, the darkest year since we recall, having lost lifes, livehoods, first inhabitance houses and dozens of enterprises were burnt to ashes. Much of this scourge could have been prevented if something else was done before the fire: FIRE PREVENTION.

Outside the context lacks awareness for prevention measures we all can take. We, as citizens, are seriously failing, because as first actors, owners and managers of our territory, we do not comply with the Law!

As for some clarification/awareness sessions already held in Central Portugal, we will explain briefly what should be done, and how it should be done:

Accordingly to Law-Decree number 124/2006, from the 28th of June, amended by Law-Decrees numbers 15/2009, from the 14th January, 17/2009, from the 14th January, 114/2001, from the 30th November, and 83/2014, from the 23rd of May, and now, Law number 76/2017, from the 17th of August, take note:

First things first, know which are the phases to fight (and prevent) wildfires:
– Alfa: between the 1st of January and the 14th of May
– Bravo: between the 15th of May and the 30th of June
– Charlie: between the 1st of July and the 30th of September – CRITICAL PERIOD
– Delta: between the 1st and 31st of October
– Echo: between the 1st of November and the 31st of December

Every year the critical phases are all the same and in the same periods of time, but, it’s on CRITICAL PERIOD that the use of any kind of fire in rural areas is limited (FORBIDDEN), such as:

  • Burnings, prescribed burnings or bonfires;
  • Launch of rockets or other kinds of fire uses (for example, smoking, beekeeping fumigators, etc.)
  • Use of machinery and equipment without any form of heat or sparks retention (heat or flames insulation in exhausts and chimneys, for example in forestry activities)

Bonfire: the use of fire to clear and eliminate surplus from farms (pruning of vineyards and olive trees, etc.) or forest activities (branches and leaves after wood cut and stack), cut and heaped.

Prescribed burning: the use of fire for pasture renewal and stubble elimination, and also to eliminate forest activity leftovers left cut on the ground (but not heaped).

Outside CRITICAL PERIOD fire use in rural areas is free, provided that the following requirements are met:

  • Burnings be made when fire risk is not VERY HIGH or MAXIMUM, and ground clearings by fire when fire risk is not HIGHVERY HIGH or MAXIMUM;
  • Burnings must be done with all safety precautions, before, during and after starting the fire:
  • Ground clearings by fire require a MANDATORY LICENSE from the City Hall or Parish Council from your area of residence; the presence of firefighters or forest foremen (Sapadores Florestais) is mandatory (otherwise is considered as arson).

 

FUEL MANAGEMENT BANDS

 

What are these fuel management bands?

They are from different kinds and have different purposes, and going straight to the point, these are the first line of prevention and protection from wildfires. So, these bands:
– are managed areas of bushes and forest (NEVER COMPLETELY CLEARED, AS EVERYONE THINKS) to contain fire;
– allow firefighters to easily fight and protect goods (the big difference between fighting the fire over your house or dozens of meters away from it);
– avoid fire to reach your house and your goods.

How to build these fuel management bands?

Fuel management bands must be build around:

– ways, accesses and roads (including private ones);
– dwellings (isolated or in agglomeration);
– warehouses, workshops;
– campsites, logistical platforms, landfills, etc.;
factories, industrial equipments and industrial polygons;
– other equipments (eg: parish councils, schools, health centers, nursing homes, WWTP, fire, etc.)

Distances:

any building (see Municipal Master Plan of your local authority for clarification): 50 meters around, from masonry boundaries, WHENEVER these bands cover land or terrains with forest, grasslands and natural pastures;
population clusters (i.e. agglomerates of houses), campsites, recreational forest infrastructures and equipments, industrial parks and polygons, logistical platforms and landfills (bordering forest areas): 100 meters around, from masonry boundaries (or polygons boundaries);
– accesses, ways and roads (road network): 10 meters for each side;
railways, transmission and distribution lines of electricity in high and very high tension: 10 meters for each side; transmission and distribution lines of electricity in medium tension: 7 meters for each side. This obligation falls on who has jurisdiction over these equipments, such as CP/REFER, EDP, REN, etc.

 

Distances between trees and houses:
  • distances from canopies (canopies boundaries) to outside house walls: minimum of 5 meters;
  • distances between tree canopies (and never from its trunks): minimum of 4 meters;
Removal or cutting of branches in height:
  • trees smaller to 8 meters: half its height without any branch;
  • trees bigger than 8 meters: no branches until 4 meters of height.

example:

These two distinctions are of particular importance insofar as they prevent the spread of a fire in the continuity of a managed land, so assuming that these rules are met, the transport of fire from the canopy to canopy is more difficult (if not even retained), and a ground level fire dies shortly or prevents it from rising up to the trees canopies. These measures are not a 100% effective solution, because everything depends on the amount and characteristics of vegetation that persists in the terrain, the degree of dryness, the intensity of the wind and the existence or not of projections. These measures were designed to protect buildings from rapid fire, being the difference between an effective firefight and the complete destruction of your goods, that often cost a lifetime to build and maintain.

Who must comply?

All of us are OBLIGED to build and maintain these fuel management tracks as:

  • Land owners
  • Forestry Producers
  • Users
  • Renters
  • Who has management (even if temporary) of the land

Are there fines?

There are fines for the disrespectful to this legislation, being of singular and collective order:

  • For single taxpayer: from 140€ to 5.000€
  • For collective taxpayer: from 800€ to 60.000€

Other recommendations / obligations

1 – You should create a paved strip of 1 to 2 meters around your house (not mandatory, but advisable).
This track should be made of crushed stone, marble, tile, dirt, coarse stones, cement, etc. around the whole building.

2 – Tree canopies (as previously mentioned) and bushes must  be at least 5 meters away from the building and CAN NEVER BE OVER THE ROOF.
This is the difference between putting out the fire over the roof of your house or extinguishing it several meters away.

3. Within the area of ​​the fuel management band, no accumulation of combustible substances such as firewood, wood, leftovers from forestry or agriculture, as well as any other highly flammable substances may occur.
The Law here is very straightforward: any accumulations within the area of ​​the fuel management range are prohibited. In order not to be in disrespect, it is advisable to place them in a confined or isolated place (eg annexes, cellars, pantries) or outside the area of ​​the strip.

 

VERY IMPORTANT

 

When we talk about fuel management, and according to the actual Law, the canopies distances apply to vegetation from TREE STRATUM; all the bushes and weeds, which is common to grow in our lands every year, must be COMPLETELY ELIMINATED.

This whole legislation applies to FOREST trees, such as pines, eucalyptus, cork trees, oaks, etc.; this legislation does not apply to species of the agricultural type, such as vineyards and olive trees! Demystifying another important question is often made to us, these rules do not apply to wild forest away from houses, it does apply to and only those trees WITHIN their respective fuel management bands.

All these rules are applied to the land owners close to dwellings, buildings or ROADS, and when such owner is not a third person but the self, these obligations (and fines) fall over himself! We must emphasize that those roads wich are not concessioned (i.e., enterprises like Ascendi, Brisa, Infraestruturas de Portugal, EDP, APA, etc.), the responsibility of management within 10 meters falls over the LAND OWNERS and NEVER on Municipalities!
The pine forest was already there before the house was built next door, another frequent question. Law is very straight: if the house was built there, the owner (in this example) of the pine forest IS FORCED to manage the vegetation in his terrain around the house owner’s terrain. Otherwise the house shouldn’t have been allowed to be built.

In breach of the rules presented here, it is OUR DUTY to proceed with the complaint, because these are our houses and goods that are at stake!
Make your complaint in writing or via telephone to GNR of your area of residence (or stay). Preferably, get in direct contact with the SEPNA (Environment and Nature Protection Bureau) from GNR.

All the sloughing caused by logging activities must be denounced! The wood or branch heaps, or more serious, of wood chips on the edge of the roads (10 meters bands) should be avoided and, whenever possible, DENOUNCED. Leaving the brances heaps after cut in the ground DOES NOT FERTILIZE, and presents an increase to the risk of forest fire. As a landlord, DEMAND the removal of these heaps from your land!

HOW TO MAKE THINGS WORK WHEN COMMON SENSE AND GOOD TALK DOESN’T WORK?

 

This chapter applies to those who want to solve these problems on his/her own, when nothing is done year after year, and find himself/herself in peril and his/her goods (house) to adjacent third-party lands, i.e., in disregard of the Law.

Fuel management works in plots of land adjacent to buildings in rural areas must be done BETWEEN the end of the critical period of past year and the 30th of April of each year. In the absence of intervention until the 31st of May of each year, the injured owner by third-party non-fulfillment may replace them, doing the fuel management works according to the Law. After, and only after the first talk with the land owners, and in case of not having an answer in 10 days, he must fix a notice in the work place to announce the start of works, wich may not start in less than 5 days after notice fixing.

FILLABLE NOTICE READY TO DOWNLOAD HERE.

Fillable form, where you must fill your name and your adress.
Print, write place and date, sign and it’s ready to fix in the work place.

In case of replacement, and only after the end of the deadline, the land owners are forced to allow access to building owners or administrators inserted in the respective fule management bands, and pay them for the expenses incurred for the fuel management works.

Whenever recovered materials from fuel management works have monetary value, the product obtained that way is still belonging to the land owner(s), although it can be sold by the one who did the works. However, over that selling price it can be subtracted the expenses from fuel management works, trough written notice to the owner(s), in the terms of the 847th article and next ones of the Portuguese Civil Code.

WARNING! MUNICIPALITIES HAVE THEIR RESPONSABILITIES TOO!

In dwellings, or aglomerates (previously defined by Municipal Plan of Forest Fires Prevention – in portuguese: Plano Municipal de Defesa da Floresta Contra Incêndios), land owners around dwellings must work on fuel management in their terrains. If until the 30th of April each year there is no fuel management, is responsability of the CITY COUNCIL until the 31st of May to proceed with the fuel management on those terrains, with the ease to go over the land owners and ask for their payment, activating the legal and financial mechanisms to do it, being able to delegate this on parish council too.

 

Finally, Inovgeo recommends:

 

  • See the Law-Decrees mentioned here: Law-Decree number 124/2006, from 28th of June, its first amendment,  Law-Decree number 17/2009, from the 14th January and its latest amendment, Law number 76/2017, from the 17th of August ;
  • Speak to your neighbour(s) about the risk you may face, calling for good sense and cooperation between yourselves;
  • If good sense does not apply, make your COMPLAINT to the correct authorities! Don’t go for private professionals, Town Halls or Parish Councils (this is not the competence of the local authorities, so they would do exactly what follows), get in direct contact or trough telephone with SEPNA, by the GNR Detachment/Territorial Squad of your area of ​​residence/stay. If the Territorial Post of your area of ​​residence does not have SEPNA division, make the complaint directly, which will soon be redirected to SEPNA. If you prefer, write a complete e-mail with photos and georeferenced information (simple local links, taken from google maps, for example) of the site you want to report, and send to sepna@gnr.pt. Note that you can always choose to report that you are making an anonymous complaint (applicable to conflicting situations between neighbors, for example).
  • If you do not feel capable of this step, please contact us, we will help you without any cost or commitment.

Here’s how to retrieve and share Google Maps coordinates:

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Next we will present another important part of the Law, directed to whoever wants to be informed about accessing, circulating and stay in forest areas, whether for recreational or professional reasons. The plus information is never too much…

ACESSING, CIRCULATING AND STAYING IN FOREST AREAS

 

DURING CRITICAL PERIOD, the access, circulation and staying of people and vehicles is not permitted in these zones:
  • Zones considered as critical
  • Areas subject to forest regime and in forest areas under State management (check wich, HERE)
  • In areas where there is signaling corresponding to the limitation of activities

DURING CRITICAL PERIOD, access, circulation and staying of people and vehicles is not permitted:
  • If there is a fire risk of VERY HIGH and MAXIMUM levels, not being allowed to access, circulate and remain within any of the areas mentioned above, as well as in the forest paths, rural roads and other routes that cross them;
  • If there is a fire risk of HIGH level, it is not permitted to work in any of the areas mentioned above with machinery without the spark arresting devices or sparks, and flaring devices in the exhaust pipes or chimneys, likewise without any fire extinguishers for any inherent hazards thereof. It is also prohibited to develop any activities NOT RELATED to the forestry and agricultural activity, as well as to circulate in MOTORIZED vehicles in the forest paths, rural roads and other routes that cross them

OUTSIDE CRITICAL PERIOD, and whenever there is a fire risk of VERY HIGH and MAXIMUM levels, it is not allowed to access, circulate and remain within any of the areas mentioned above, as well as in the forest paths, rural roads and other routes that cross them.

EXCEPTIONS

Are exceptions on and out of the CRITICAL PERIOD (whenever there is a fire risk of VERY HIGH and MAXIMUM levels):

  • accessing, circulating and remain within any of the areas mentioned above of residents, forest owners and producers, and those who work there;
  • the movement of people within the abovementioned areas who have no alternative access to their homes or places of work
  • The exercise of activities within the abovementioned areas, which lack regular periodic monitoring (eg. maintenance of electric cables or poles);
  • The use of recreational and recreational parks when properly equipped for this purpose (eg. biological parks, mountain biking centers, adventure parks, etc.);
  • Road traffic in highways, main routes (IP), complementary routes (IC), national roads (EN) and regional roads (ER);
  • The circulation in municipal roads for which there is no other alternative with an equivalent route;
  • The access, movement and permanence within the said zones of agents and means of civil protection;
  • The access, movement and permanence within the said zones of military means resulting from an intrinsically military mission.
ALL THESE NORMS OF ACCESS, CIRCULATION AND PERMANENCE DO NOT APPLY TO:
  • Urban areas and industrial areas;
  • Access to any concessioned river and sea beaches;
  • Means of prevention, surveillance, detection, first intervention and firefighting (eg.: forest lookouts and forest foremen);
  • To rural (forest) buildings subject to policing and inspection by the activities developed there, such as hunting, and, virtue and by virtue of their submission to the special hunting regime, when not included in critical areas;
  • To the execution of works of public interest, whenever it is recognized as such;
  • To the circulation of priority vehicles when on an emergency trip;
  • Areas under military jurisdiction.

 

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