Forest fires: a world in flames

Do you recall the overwhelming images of the Amazon, Brazil and Australia, with wild and forest fires coming very close to large cities?

2019 was indeed a very dreadful and dark year, worldwide, with exceptionally large forest fires registered in the Arctic region, as well as in “Australia, Indonesia, Amazon, Europe, Chile, California or Central Africa”.

It is clear we are not prepared to deal with ever-more-aggressive forest fires.

This is just one of the conclusions of the report “Um Planeta em Chamas” (A planet in flames) by the Portuguese Nature Association (Associação Natureza Portugal, ANP), the World Wildlife Fund Portugal (ANP|WWF) and the WWF Spain.

Portugal and Spain are high risk zones

The Iberian Peninsula is highly vulnerable to “mega fires”, and some of the reasons pointed out in the report are “rural depopulation and lack of incentives and policies for (adjusted) land management”, besides the quite obvious global warming. And to this, one must add human intervention to the causes of fires, either intentional or unintentional.

Portugal and Spain are forest fires high risk zones

In just 2020, from January to October, 9,394 forest fires were registered in Portugal, which resulted in 65,887 hectares of burned land. This is the equivalent of more than 92 thousand football fields! Yes, that is unfortunately right: 92 thousand football fields, burned, in just one year.

Although the numbers of forest fires have decreased significantly over the last decade, 2017 will for ever be remembered in Portugal as the worst year in almost a century – a series of fires have ravaged central Portugal, with many fatalities and many thousands of burned acres. Later in the year, more than 7,900 forest fires have affected Northern Portugal and North-western Spain.

Portugal Chama is a call to action against forest fires

Some of the conclusions of this study about forest fires are really devastating, but there is a way around it, and that solution is completely in our hands: prevention.

The Portuguese national campaign for sensitisation and mobilisation, “Portugal Chama” – a wordplay on “chama”, which means both flame and calling – created by the Portuguese Agency for the Integrated Management of Forest Fires (AGIF), intends to educate and alert the Portuguese population on the many fires that every year devastate Portuguese forests, and help avoiding their occurrence.

This initiative has an official website (in Portuguese only) where valuable advice, national alerts and a FAQ are made available, in order to prevent and avoid forest fires in Portugal.

From motorway toll gates and TV or radio advertising to posters in Pingo Doce and Recheio stores all over the country, the campaign has returned once again, to promote good habits when it comes to forest fire prevention, namely in situations like picnics, camping, land clearing, and land clearing burning, as well as providing valuable safety information in case of fire.

Fire Danger Forecast

The scale that characterises the forest fire risk in Portugal is divided in five categories: Low, Moderate, High, Very High and Extreme.

Unfortunately, during the summer months, the risk is frequently High, Very High or Extreme. In the event of being in Portugal around that time, and close to the countryside or to the forest, be it living, working or just vacationing, it is important to keep an attentive eye to the daily forest fire risk.

You can check the forest fire risk by municipality on the Portuguese Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) website, in the dedicated ICNF app, or even on the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA) website, in English.

There is a similar scale and risk assessment programme for Europe, the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS). This scale has, in addition to the same five used in Portugal, a sixth category, Very Low. On the official EFFIS website, it is possible to check the daily forecast of forest fire danger in all the European countries.

In the hands of the young

Children can be sort of influencers when it comes to changing habits and adopting healthier, safer behaviours (just remember what children have done for recycling) and reducing negligence – an important factor in more than half of the fires in Portugal. As such, this year’s “Portugal Chama” campaign appeals not only for adults’ help but also for children’s help in preventing forest fires in the country.

Raposa Chama

“Most forest fires happen due to human action. Watch out for risky behaviours. Be a good example!”, is one of the messages the “Fox” has for children.

“Raposa Chama” (Fox is calling) – again, a wordplay on the word flame – is the motto that is being used to captivate primary school children, from 5 to 12 years of age, into becoming ambassadors to the cause. The students are invited to challenges and activities, created specifically for this purpose, that can later be shared via social media with the hashtags #raposachama and #bandadafloresta.

Did you know that…

  • 85% of the forest fires start at less than 500 metres from roads, houses, or plantations?
  • 60% of the forest fires are caused by bonfires and poorly executed land clearing burnings?
  • Portugal is the European country most affected by forest fires? In the last 30 years, Portugal has had the most occurrences, as well as the largest burned area.
  • Every day Portugal sees 3% of its forest burn?

Avoid risk behaviours during your vacation

These are the official governmental guidelines in Portugal, but they can be applied to basically anywhere in the world. Whenever the weather is warm, dry and windy – and whenever the risk of forest fires is classified as Extreme:

  • Do not shoot fireworks;
  • Don’t start campfires or bonfires in the countryside or in the forest;
  • Do not burn waste or rubbish;
  • Do not use certain electric or fuel agricultural machinery, in order to avoid sparks;
  • Do not use outdoor grills and barbeques.

Some other general recommendations:

  • Do not throw cigarette butts to the ground;
  • Only use outdoor grills and campfires in places that specifically allow it;
  • Thoroughly extinguish any small fires (grills, campfires, bonfires), even in prepared locations;
  • Check the land surrounding a camping: make sure it is clean and that the exit is unobstructed;
  • Carry a fire extinguisher if you use a motorhome, camper van or caravan;
  • Do not cook food inside tents;
  • Do not light candles or smoke inside tents or caravans;
  • Always check the forest fire risk forecast for the day.


For a country, and a planet, without flames.

This article was updated in March 2021