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Portugal wildfires: Why are they so deadly?  RSS feed

 
Burra Maluca
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This quote from a BBC news webpage agrees with me that a huge part of the blame lies with the planting of huge swathes of eucalyptus

Monocultural Forests

Much of the area in flames is dominated by eucalyptus, an Australian species introduced to Europe in the 18th Century but which really boomed in Portugal with the rise of paper industries in the mid-20th Century.

It is one of the most profitable trees, but ecologists say eucalyptus sucks up rare groundwater and is bad for native plant and animal life.

The sap-rich tree that now covers large parts of central and northern Portugal is also highly flammable.

Eucalyptus lined route N-236, where 47 people died in their cars while trying to flee.


In the worst hit area, there also seems to be a tendency to plant right up to the edge of the road, creating a fire tunnel which may become blocked by falling trees or shower burning branches onto cars.

 
Andreas Schäfer
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I agree, I also think the eucalyptus monoculture is the structural problem. According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_Portugal_wildfires) in the last ten years the eucalyptus became the dominant tree in Portugal. I hope the terrible fires of this year will force politics to make serious policy to decrease the number of eucalyptus trees.

But last year the eucalyptus already must have been dominant, but there were less fires. So I guess the main reason why this year is so bad, is because the whole year so far has been extremely dry (and hot) in central Portugal.

I have to admit these fires scare me, and they are coming close (about 25km).. What would be the best strategy when the fire would reach till here? Run, or jump in the well? Since a forestfire can spread so fast, I guess you cannot outrun a fire.. So my plan is to jump in the well, its a 6 m deep hole, with about 1,5 m water in it at the moment, so enough air to breath, or would the fire burn all oxygen?
 
Burra Maluca
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Well the heat is part of it - I've never known temperatures this high before August.  And then that terrible thunderstorm with so much lightning.  Here, it was followed by rain, but I think some places only got the lightning and it was setting fire to trees.

I have bug out bags ready, but I'm still not certain of the best plan of action if the fire reaches here.  Like you, I still have a 25km buffer,  but it's already hot out there and there was smoke around last night.  I think if I jumped in my well I'd never get out again, but we have a pond that might help.  I think we'd probably try to leave - at least our roads aren't lined by trees quite like the ones where the cars all got burned out in the video.
 
Michael Cox
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Take a look at the advice given to rural people in fire risk parts of Australia.

It is generally stated; decide in advance if you are staying or going, plan accordingly and stick to it. On your own land you can do a lot to reduce the fire risk, by removing deadwood, clearing firebreaks and maintaining clear space around properties. But if the fire is on your door step it is far too late to be thinking about it.
 
Dave de Basque
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Eucalyptus trees in a fire are basically like gasoline. I'm amazed that they're allowed to be planted in fire-prone areas like most of the Iberian peninsula. Hopefully this avoidable tragedy will cause enough outrage that the politicians give this one a re-think.

Pages 451-497 of the Permaculture Designers Manual are great as far as planning for wildfires, at least in the long term.

In the short term, I think it's important to have hopefully at least two escape routes planned, and keep observing and keep on the news constantly for changes of wind speed and direction, and fire intensity (if intense it creates its own wind/fire tornadoes). And especially, know where the fire is, and don't only look at how close it is to your house, look at how close it is to your escape routes. If you ever start to have doubts about your escape route, it's time to get the hell out unless you've got a serious fire shelter built and plan to stay. Double and triple if you're downwind and the wind speed is picking up, and/or the humidity is low.

Hope everyone comes through this OK. Burra, I've really appreciated your photos of past wildfires in your area showing how fires stopped at the border of eucalypt forest and a permie-style farm. Very inspiring!
 
Burra Maluca
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Dave de Basque wrote: Burra, I've really appreciated your photos of past wildfires in your area showing how fires stopped at the border of eucalypt forest and a permie-style farm. Very inspiring!


I'll try to dig them out and post them again.  I wouldn't rely on being safe though - I've seen places where the fire has jumped quite a long way.  It would only take a fairly small bit of burning twig to be carried over your property and land in the wrong place to cause major problems. 
 
Burra Maluca
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Found it!  Here's the link to the whole thread - Reforesting Portugal with “firefighting trees”

And I think this was the photo, taken from this Portuguese article

 
Burra Maluca
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This is an interesting article - Reeling from its deadliest forest fire, Portugal finds a villain: eucalyptus trees



Here's a snippet

“Our climate is like California. It’s normal to have fires here. But with the introduction of eucalyptus, they have lots of material to burn,” said João Branco, with the Portuguese environmental group Quercus. Its name is Latin for “oak,” a native tree the group is lobbying to have planted instead of eucalyptus.

Native oaks and laurels are more resistant to fires, but eucalyptus trees burn faster and hotter, making wildfires harder to control. The Portuguese government has pledged to ban new eucalyptus plantations, but the law has not yet been finalized.

“The government was negligent. This was a predictable fire, because it’s very well known in Portugal, the problem of eucalyptus and its connection to fires,” Branco said. “Everybody knew this could happen. It was a matter of time.”

Tiny Portugal is one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, and suffers more wildfires than its larger neighbors. Last summer, Portugal was home to half of the total acreage lost to wildfires across the European Union. Most of the land is privately owned, not managed by the government.
 
Dave de Basque
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Burra Maluca wrote:I wouldn't rely on being safe though - I've seen places where the fire has jumped quite a long way.  It would only take a fairly small bit of burning twig to be carried over your property and land in the wrong place to cause major problems. 


I'm glad you're such a smart cookie, Burra, we're lucky to have you here. Yes I think firebreaks are like security theater at the airport. They make you feel warm and fuzzy like you're safe, and you can get on with everyday life living in your little bubble. But in reality they don't do too much, you need a very multi-pronged approach. And if a fire tornado forms in advance of a fire and touches down on your property, it's toast, period. But less toasty toast, perhaps saving your patooty in the process, if you have prepared your land really well in advance. And another great warning from the PDM: if you are downwind of a fire in the next valley, i.e., the wind is blowing over a range of hills or mountains towards you, you are f**ked, that is the worst situation you can be in (other than dead), and at the greatest risk of the formation of fire tornadoes in advance of the fire. If you're all the way on the valley floor, and especially at the mouth of the valley, the risk is quite a bit lower.

Back to my other rant about eucalyptus. Why did no one ask the Australians before planting? Any Aussie can explain to you in glorious detail the behavior of eucalyptus in a fire. Hello, it is the 21st centuy. Google it. These things are not a secret any more.

We need a sh*tload more of permaculture designers and we need them fast. If we are the only people on the planet that can put 2 and 2 together, then... whatever... but there needs to be a lot of us really quickly before the whole f*ing house burns down! Please take a PDC and get to work everyone! (My wild opinions only, your mileage may differ)
 
Dave de Basque
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A few more bits of wisdom from our dearly departed Bill Mollison: a good fire shelter is totally and generously earth bermed, top and all sides, and the entrance has an earth-bermed dogleg, it's not just a door you enter straight on. Inside are buckets of water and blankets at least. Placement is in the "fire shadow" of your house or whatever other big obstacles you've got around, meaning in the center of the opposite side to where a fire would likely come from, assuming you know (i.e. which direction do your hot, dry winds come from?)

Another tidbit: Most wildfire victims are not burned to death but baked, killed by the radiant heat that hits in advance of the fire. Thus all the earth berming. So a deep cave would be a nice place to hang out.
 
Malcolm Thomas
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I,m a newbie to the forum but have looked in for several years and just found out Bill Mollison has passed away , very sad and a great loss, who carries the torch now ?.
Heard about the fires in Portugal, on the BBC there was a report and something to the effect the trees were planted in orderly rows or something ie not natural spacing as in natural habitat of Australia .
I think the bottom line is an alien species brought in for the paper production industry and huge profit , anyhow its a tree out of place .
     I live in north west Spain in the hills and have some woodland and open space , here the country is in desperate need of help the old people are dying and whole villages are overgrown with no one to regenerate the area , i dont think they have any concept here of what to do other than plant pines and eucalyptus as well i wish i knew what the heck was going on here .
     I also need help on how to get rid of the invasive weed MIMOSA , again the government here seems to be doing nothing to remove this alien species , if anyone knows how please post or send me some links , i really would like to know the botom line about forestry and land in Spain , info here is pretty thin on the ground or non existant.
     Anyhow thats all
Thanks
 
Dale Hodgins
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My daughter was in Portugal last week, and Burra warned me about the fires.

In 2007, I did a tour with my father and daughter of many of the highways in British Columbia and the Yukon. During this trip, I asked local authorities and real estate people,  if this town had any real plan to not burn down. Probably 30 different towns. Only Revelstoke had such a plan. Every other place was just crossing their fingers and hoping. We've had two major incidents where an entire town has been threatened and evacuated since that.

Last year's fire in Fort McMurray sparked a lot of debate, but most of it not about where to build and which trees to remove from the landscape. It's been almost all about who should pay for what.
 
Andreas Schäfer
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Hi Malcolm, I think we are getting off topic, but about Mimosa, I have some experience with it. It takes some time and effort, but its possible to get rid of it. Cut the trees down, try to remove the roots, in winter you can burn them. After that, you have to come back a few times a year to remove the seedlings and sprouts from roots you missed. Its time consuming, but I would prefer it over using herbicides. BTW, I am not a big fan of Mimosa, but if its not getting too much, it doesnt bother me. To get back on topic, as far I know, regarding wildfires, Mimosa is not the problem (OK, it could be a problem, if there is a lot of dry dead wood around, but I guess Eucalyptus and Pine are the biggest problem here).
 
Malcolm Thomas
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Yes thanks for the reply , mimosa is a threat here so will be doing utmost to get rid of , thought of herbicide but reluctant . Ok will end topic here , thanks again .
 
David Livingston
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Martin
Why don't you start a new topic as I am sure there are lots of other folks might have ideas but the title of this thread would not interest them so miss your question

David
 
Malcolm Thomas
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Yep will do , i,m out of here , thanks .
 
João Carneiro
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in 2003, it was disastrous. Huge material losses.  This year, it whent overboard, too many people dyed(how many is too many?!...).

So in the aftermath of all the people trying to force their point, i heard one opinion on Radio Renascença - think it was from the president of the forrestry producers association - and he presented himself, his point of view, and then underlined:

if 95% of the Pedrogão Grande Council burned down to the ground, let's start there. Apply all our knowledge and techniques, making a new policy for forestry that implements them thoroughly, and as it works out, take the lessons and extend it to the rest of the country.


it made sense in my mind. i'm not presenting his point of view, because i really can't remmember the details and wouldn't be proper to distort his ideas and claims.

The point i make here is that he showed a way of moving forward without generating a heated revolution.

maybe this time things change visibly around here. I don't think it is an easy subject, there are many problems to be sorted out in between.



ps.: Burra, about that video, i have only one word for it: shocking.
 
Dale Hodgins
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I imagine that when all of this settles down, there will be public meetings, as they try to figure out how to avert future catastrophes. I hope some of you will attend these meetings.

Not only are eucalyptus a huge fire risk, they produce a forest that has very little to offer wildlife or humans. They drain the water table and virtually eliminate many native species.

The European Union has some say in Environmental Protection. Elimination of habitat for native species, might be part of that.
 
João Carneiro
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Nice interview on TV in channel RTP3 program "Tudo é Economia" (everything is economy) season 1 episode 25. Don't have the link for the episode yet as it is running live, but i leave a playlist with all episodes:

On the TV website:

https://www.rtp.pt/play/p2983/tudo-e-economia

episode 25: https://shar.es/1BddVr

I caught part of the show by accident, but i liked seeing someone underline the role of the city councils(Municipios) in the social organization and local economies of the forest.

edit: added the tv website
edit2: removed youtube playlist since it does not contain this episode, added episode from tv website.
 
João Carneiro
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Interesting debate on program "O outro lado"(the other side) on RTP3, season 1 episode 24.

The broadcasters website:

https://shar.es/1BdwKj

An incisive balance on the aftermath.

ps.: i'm sharing some pointers on what i see that has some quality on the subject, if by any chance is innapropriate, i'll stop.

edit: updated the video url
 
Burra Maluca
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João Carneiro wrote:i'm sharing some pointers on what i see that has some quality on the subject, if by any chance is innapropriate, i'll stop.


Please don't stop.  I'm a bit rushed off my feet at the moment and haven't watched the videos yet, but I'm hoping this thread will become a really useful resource that I, and anyone else, can come back to whenever I want to research further.

 
John C Daley
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I live in the middle of an Australian eucalypt forest.
The big issue with these trees is the gases they emit when they get hot, particularly in the summer where temperatures of 45 deg celcius are common for us at times,
certainly 38-40 degrees days are very common in summer.
These gases are highly inflammable and can jump or be blown with high winds 5-8 Km ahead of the fire face.

We call them bush fires.
In remote parts of Australia now, and certainly 200 years ago in areas closer to the main cities, fires started by lightning can burn for months and run for hundreds of kilometres.
It is not common.
But fires covering 100,000 hectares are not unusual here.

I cannot remember why the trees were exported, but they certainly are planted in areas we would consider very dangerous today.
As for the effect of these trees on the ground water, I am not sure that point made earlier is correct, more research may be needed to clarify that.
 
João Carneiro
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John C Daley
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The introduction of Eucalypt trees to countries around the world was for purely business, although they will grow on land which has been badly degraded;

On an economic level, many early promoters believed the eucalyptus could be used for making a number of materials: timber, fuel, medicine, wood pulp, honey,
and both medicinal and industrial oils. Not only could eucalyptus grow quickly in many conditions, but, in several species,
when the tree’s cut down even to the roots new stems sprout back up. It all seemed too good to be true. Later, it turned out, it was.

As with introduced species all sorts of issues have arisen all around the world as a consequence, Bush Fires is one of the problems.
 
João Carneiro
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http://expresso.sapo.pt/sociedade/2017-07-05-IPMA-So-ha-5-de-hipotese-do-fogo-em-Pedrogao-ter-origem-num-raio

article on the report from IPMA. It seems the 'fire industry' or some other nasty hand is to blame for the fire.
 
João Carneiro
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