Fires: Lack of labor, registration and rising prices make land clearing difficult

Mayors of Loulé and Monchique identified difficulties

The deadline for clearing forest land by owners ends Sunday, but several municipalities affected by fires in recent years say it is becoming more difficult to meet, due to rising costs and a lack of manpower.

The lack of a register that identifies the owners of land, often nanofundios resulting from the division of inheritances, mainly in areas affected by strong emigration, also makes the process of notifying non-compliant owners difficult, although the mayors consider that more people are aware of the need to clear the land.

In Monchique, the mayor of the municipality, Paulo Alves, stressed that there are situations in which the deadline “cannot be met”, due to periods of high and high risk of fire, which are often recorded in April.

In Loulé, the land clearing “is proceeding normally, within the expected time frame”, the mayor of the municipality, Vítor Aleixo, assured Lusa, highlighting a “scarcity of companies that carry out work in the area of ​​preventive forestry”.

Vítor Aleixo pointed out that “the lack of information about the owners, as the registration has not been completed”, makes their notification difficult.

Two years after being devastated by a violent fire, which consumed an estimated area of ​​1.100 hectares of land, in the municipality of Odemira, the private sector also complains of difficulties in “finding service providers” and the municipality regrets that it has not been created a “priority parish” in this territory, to have “greater control” in “supervision terms”, explained the councilor of the Chamber of Odemira Raquel Vicente e Silva.

As the deadline for clearing the land approaches, work intensifies in the municipality of Vila Real, where, in 2022, there were 136 incidents that burned 5.968 hectares. The big fire that broke out on the 21st of August in Samardã, Alvão Mountains alone, consumed 5.800 hectares.

Trás-os-Montes councilor for Civil Protection, Carlos Silva, said that all the interventions recommended in the Municipal Plan for the Defense of the Forest Against Fires had been completed and, in addition, fuel management lanes were carried out in Quintã and in Vilarinho da Samardã and interventions in the urban spaces of the neighborhood of Santa Maria (city) and in Cravelas.

Like other mayors contacted by the Lusa agency, Carlos Silva believes that there are “increasingly” owners aware of the cleaning effort, but he pointed out obstacles to the process such as the cost of the work, the difficulty in hiring qualified companies for the purpose and the fact that of many owners not to be found in the municipality.

The biggest concern of the Mayor of Carrazeda de Ansiães (Bragança), João Gonçalves, is precisely the difficulty that the Chamber and private individuals have faced “in arranging companies to clean the land, in good time, since the area to be cleaned is large and the cleaning period is not that extensive”.

The mayor of this municipality, hit by a fire that burned for four days in July 2022, guarantees that the fuel lanes under municipal responsibility have been cleaned, but there is the problem of depopulation and consequent abandonment of private land, which is pasture for the flames.

In the municipality of Seia, Guarda, which was hit by major fires in 2017 and 2022, the municipality has already completed a “first round” in cleaning protective strips on the sides of municipal roads and in areas where businesses are located.

The mayor of Seia, Luciano Ribeiro, said that, at the private level, "cleaning is more expensive and people have less disposable income", although the most serious situations have already been signaled by the GNR and municipal services.

Also in Palmela, Setúbal, there are no companies or labor available to clean up all the land, in accordance with the provisions of the law, said the mayor of the municipality, Álvaro Amaro (CDU).

In this municipality there are hundreds of plots of land that need to be cleaned every year due to the high risk of fire they present, but some owners do not do it and the municipality also does not have the human and financial means to replace all of them, not least because some also they do not pay the fines and the court proceedings are lengthy.

In the municipality of Gavião (Portalegre), where the risk of fire in the summer season is “always high”, the cleaning work on land and forests is going “very well” and until the 30th of this month will be “practically” complete. completed, according to the mayor, José Pio, who stressed that "the greatest difficulty" is "having people to operate the machines and to put the land in conditions".

Cadaval and Mafra (in the Lisbon district) also pointed out to Lusa difficulties in identifying and notifying owners, due to outdated property data in Finance and registry offices.

Alternatively, the two municipalities in the district of Lisbon are concentrating their efforts on cleaning and creating fuel management lanes (FGC) in critical areas, which present high or very high danger, notifying only the owners of these areas, instead of entirety.

In Alvaiázere, the mayor, João Paulo Guerreiro, pointed out that he saw “land that was not clean burn so fast, like immaculate land”, when, in the summer of 2022, about 3.500 hectares burned, causing damage of about 5,2, XNUMX million euros in the municipality.

João Paulo Guerreiro considered that, more important than cleaning, is “the organization and distribution of forest and non-forest territories”, and noted that the depopulation of the interior means that many lands are no longer small farms, but nano-farms.

“We have land of 100 square meters with 20, 30 owners and it becomes very difficult to take some kind of action against the owners of these plots”, he added.

As of April 30, as happened last year, the municipality of Seia will act in cases of private land that are more dangerous and then “send the bill to the owners”, said the mayor.

In Palmela, the mayor suggests the creation of a “burden on property”, which penalizes “transiently” landowners who do not clean up the land.

Within the scope of prevention, the GNR carried out, from the beginning of the year and until April 9, 3.523 actions to raise awareness of self-protection measures and the correct use of fire by communities, which reached almost 70 thousand people.

In response to Lusa, the GNR revealed that it has already identified, within the scope of the Safe Forest Operation, 13.949 situations of possibility of non-compliance with the cleaning of land in areas at risk of fire and has already passed 16 administrative offense notices for burning and 58 for burning.