Forest fires: a country (and a planet) in flames

When temperatures rise in the summer months, we’re confronted with haunting orange and red images every time we turn on the TV, scroll through social media or open a newspaper – it is our forests, once lush and green, being devastated by fires.

A forest fire, also called wildfire, is an unplanned and uncontrolled combustion, with negative consequences for people, biodiversity and, above all, forests and agricultural land. All over the world, 2019 was a “dark” year, with large fires recorded in the Arctic region, Australia, Indonesia, the Amazon, Europe, Chile, California, and Central Africa.

In Portugal, talking about forest fires means going back to the tragic year of 2017, the worst in almost a century. First around Pedrógão Grande and, later in October, in Pinhal de Leiria and in the regions of Coimbra, Viseu and Castelo Branco. The idyllic landscape of Serra do Açor was one of the most affected, but its reforestation project is already underway. The year 2022 was also an eventful year, with wildfires devastating about 25% of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park.

Portugal is a fire risk zone

Despite its temperate climate, the Iberian Peninsula is vulnerable to high temperatures and low precipitation during summer, conditions that favour wildfire outbreaks. Other elements, such as rural depopulation, absence of local prevention actions, lack of land management policies and adequate means of firefighting, and lack of awareness of the populations in higher-risk areas and periods, need to be factored in. Unfortunately, man-made wildfires, either accidental or intentional, are also significant.

An increasing consciousness of risk factors, together with the devastating consequences of the 2017 tragedy, has increased awareness among the populations and prompted changes in the way Portuguese authorities prepare and manage forest fires. Comparing the period from 2007 to 2017 with the period from 2018 to 2022, the total number of fires has halved and there was also a decrease in the average number of fires on days of greatest risk.

Portugal and Spain are forest fires high risk zones

Still, Portugal recorded 10,449 rural fires in 2022, resulting in 110,007 hectares of burned area. That is an area equivalent to about 150,000 soccer fields. Yes, you read that right: 150,000 soccer fields burned down in just one year.

Between 2018 and 2022, accidental man-made fires and arson led to the most wildfires in the summer months. Therefore, all means of prevention are necessary.

Portugal Chama calls all of us into action

The national awareness and mobilization campaign Portugal Chama, created by the Agency for Integrated Fire Management (AGIF) aims to educate and alert the population to wildfires, and to prevent their occurrence.

Portugal Chama

In Portuguese, “chama” means both “call” and “flame”. The name of this initiative, Portugal Chama, is a reminder of both the dangers of wildfires and of the call to action to stop them.

On the official website of the Portugal Chama initiative, there is advice, warnings, and clarifications on the best practices to prevent wildfires in Portugal.

From motorway tollbooths to television ads, radio spots, and posters in Pingo Doce and Recheio stores across the country, the Portugal Chama campaign is back this summer. Once again, the goal is to alert everyone to potential fire-causing situations, such as camping, picnics, clearing land, carrying out burnings and bonfires, as well as to give out information on safety measures in case of fire.

Fire risk scale

The scale that characterizes the risk of fires in Portugal has five categories: Low, Moderate, High, Very High, and Maximum.

During the summer months, the fire risk is often High, Very High, and Maximum. It is important that those who are close to the countryside or forest beware of the risk. This piece of advice applies to those who live or work in the countryside, and also to those who enjoy visiting or vacationing there.

You can check the daily risk of wildfires by region and municipality on the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) website, via the ICNF’s dedicated app, or on the Portuguese Institute for the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) website.

Preventing fires at the hands of the little ones

Children have an incredible ability to persuade and influence adults, and this uncanny ability can be a precious help in changing behaviours – just think about how children helped drive recycling. Children can have powerful roles in helping to reduce negligent fires, which account for more than half of fires in Portugal. That is why the Portugal Chama campaign also aims to raise wildfire awareness among children.

Raposa Chama (“the fox is calling”) is the motto of this initiative targeted at children between the ages of 5 and 12. They too can become ambassadors for this cause and set an example for everyone through school, teachers, and family. Students are invited to undertake challenges and activities created specifically for this campaign, which can then be shared on social media through the hashtags #raposachama and #bandadafloresta.

Did you know that…

Avoid risky behaviour during your holidays

If the weather is hot, dry, and windy – and the risk of wildfire is maximum:

  • Do not use, set off, or throw fireworks.
  • Do not make campfires or bonfires in or near the countryside or forest.
  • Do not burn waste or rubbish.
  • Do not use electric or petrol agricultural machinery, in order to prevent sparks.
  • Do not use barbecues or firepits for cooking.


Other general recommendations:

  • Don’t throw cigarette butts to the ground.
  • Have barbecues or bonfires only in places where they are explicitly allowed.
  • Make sure to put out completely any small fire (in barbecues, firepits, etc), even in places where they are specifically allowed.
  • Make sure the ground around a camp is clear and that the exit is unobstructed.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your camper van.
  • Do not cook inside camping tents.
  • Do not light candles or smoke inside tents and caravans.
  • Always be informed of the risk of wildfire for the day.


For a country, and a planet, without fires.