Facing heatwaves and forest fires in Portugal

8 August 2022

Like the rest of Europe, Portugal was also severely hit by heatwaves the past couple of months, leading to dangerous fires in forests throughout the country as well as concern over the health of the population. By mid-July, over 1,100 people have died in Portugal and Spain alone due to the heatwave. Moreover, with climate change, high temperatures are here to stay.

Isabel Moreira da Silva, Department Director of the Department of Communication of the City of Porto, explains that “when high maximum temperatures persisted in the municipality of Porto,” with thermometers going over 40 degrees, “a red warning was issued to the population, and preventive advice from the Municipal Civil Protection was disseminated.”

Wildfire. Image by Pixabay.
Wildfire. Image by Pixabay.

This means that citizens should avoid exposing themselves to the sun during the hottest hours (from 11:00 to 17:00), protect their heads with hats, wear sunglasses and light clothes, and use sunscreen.

Particularly focused on the elderly, the city advises them to drink a lot of water frequently, as well as avoid alcoholic beverages, also those containing caffeine or gas and avoid exercises.

In the city of Guimaraes, co-chair of Eurocities’ Green areas and biodiversity group, forest fires are a significant concern. In 2017 over 100 people died in the country due to wildfires.

Near Lisbon, 62 people died inside their cars or while trying to escape in one of the country’s biggest tragedies to date in June 2017 – and more wildfires are expected as temperatures rise throughout August of this year.

Isabel Loureiro, Executive Coordinator of the Mission Structure – Guimaraes 2030, explained that “regarding fire prevention, a fundamental aspect in the fight against the effects of climate change, in addition to the Municipal Plan for the defence of forests against wildfires and in the scope of the Guimaraes 2030 Governance Ecosystem, we have a set of preventive and proactive initiatives in the logic of involving citizens, the public sector, the private sector, awareness raising and education, for the importance of this increasingly scarce natural resource.”

Among the many initiatives, she highlighted the sustainable management and use of water, the good practices in the reuse of water from municipal swimming pools to clean the streets of the city, and the replacement of 3,500 non-autochthonous trees per year through participative and collaborative projects aimed at citizens, schools, companies, and other stakeholders.

Guimarães. Photo by luis castro on Unsplash
Guimarães. Photo by luis castro on Unsplash

Guimaraes City Council has drawn up a document that includes a set of good practices for the sustainable management and use of water with measures concerted between the different partners with responsibilities in water management (control and use), also incorporating a strong awareness campaign aimed at citizens, for the conscious and rational use of water.

Loureiro also explained that “within the scope of prevention and environmental education and awareness, Guimaraes has implemented the PEGADAS Environmental Education Programme, in which an anchor activity – Civil Protection Clubs – is integrated, aimed at all schools. Pegadas means Footprint in English.

This school year, the central theme is Forest Fires. Thus, the Civil Protection team of Guimaraes has carried out, together with the Environmental Education technicians of the Laboratório da Paisagem or Landscape Lab (a research and educational institution in the city), a series of training, capacity-building and awareness-raising activities on the issue of forest protection.”

The city has also improved 57km of forest tracks by reinforcing inspection and clearing actions in risk areas and promoting registering privately-owned land in the most vulnerable areas to implement preventive measures.

Guimaraes has also created Portugal’s first Land Bank through its Rural Base Incubator, an instrument “through which landowners can lease to the municipality either abandoned or unused land they own so that it can be sublet to entrepreneurs willing to create their own rural business,” said Loureiro.

The Land Bank helps land-owners by increasing the value of their land with agricultural or forestry potential and guaranteeing income from the Municipality of Guimaraes through the preservation of the forest.

Despite all efforts, citizens still worry as temperatures again rise. However, city administrators do their best to keep their population safe.


Raphael Garcia Eurocities Writer