Historically the five southern European countries, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, have had a higher annual incidence of forest fires than the rest of Europe. Among these five countries Portugal has been the most affected by forest fire events over the past several years.
Currently there are several large forest fires in mountainous regions throughout Portugal and also in the Portuguese island of Madeira, which earlier this year suffered severe flooding. Both forest fires and flooding events are driven by weather and climate variability affecting Portugal and the larger Mediterranean basin.
National authorities in Portugal led by the National Authority for Civil protection (ANPC) and the Directorate General of Forest Resources, with support from universities, such as University of Coimbra, and other public agencies have instituted a vigorous program of research, awareness and education, and fire management and control, which has proven successful in reducing the number and size of fire events in recent years and in raising the level of awareness among the general population including children.
Climatic regimes have led to a fire season in Portugal that historically is most active from August through November, so the current forest fires mark what could be termed as the ‘start’ of the 2010 forest fire season. Some sectors, mainly academic research sectors, argue that urbanization and deforestation especially in recent years have exacerbated Portugal’s vulnerability to forest fires. It is clear that the influence of such external drivers, as deforestation and urbanization, at a time when the annual fire weather index and the resulting daily severity index (DSR) appear to be increasing, certainly merit careful attention and more research focusing on causality with the objective of identifying effective mitigation measures to reduce the potential for damage from such hazard over recurring annual fire seasons.