Portugal on wildfire alert amid heat wave and severe drought
July 8, 2022 By Barry Hatton, The Associated Press
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s government on Friday declared an eight-day state of alert due to a heightened risk of wildfires, as the drought-stricken country prepares for a heat wave packing temperatures as high as 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit).
The torrid weather brings with it “a significant worsening of the wildfire risk” through July 15, a joint statement from five government departments said.
Declaring a state of alert gives the government temporary authority to order precautionary measures. The restrictions adopted Friday include barring public access to forests deemed to be at special risk, banning the use of farm machinery that might produce sparks, and outlawing fireworks that are commonly used at summer festivals.
Portugal has long experienced dramatic forest fires. In 2017, blazes killed more than 100 people.
Heat waves and droughts also aren’t uncommon in Portugal, but climate scientists say all of southern Europe can expect higher temperatures and lower rainfall as a consequence of global warming.
The European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission, says climate change has the continent facing one of its hardest years for natural disasters such as droughts and wildfires.
In Spain, temperatures are forecast to climb to 42 degrees Celsius (107 F) over the weekend in some areas along the border with Portugal.
Spain’s June rainfall was about half the 30-year average, and the country’s reservoirs are on average at 45% capacity, according to government data.
Italy also recently endured a prolonged heat wave and is experiencing its worst drought in 70 years.
In Portugal, 96% of the country was classified at the end of June as being in either “extreme” or “severe” drought — the two highest categories.
While Portugal’s emergency restrictions are in effect, police and forest rangers will be on permanent standby and will conduct regular patrols.
The Portuguese government says that during the peak fire season from July to September, Portugal will have at its disposal almost 13,000 firefighters and associated staff, more than 2,800 vehicles and 60 firefighting aircraft.
Portugal has improved its forest management and other strategies since the 2017 deaths shocked the country; no one has died in a wildfire since then. Last year, the country recorded its lowest number of wildfires since 2011.