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Visit to Civil Protection – 2 of 4

Last updated on 31st July 2023

We ( visited the Civil Protection Centre in Cancela (SRPC) (

Fire prevention in the city

Private homeowners know what to do in order to prevent a fire in and around their house – they are information sheets and articles around – but the Portuguese mentality does not lend itself to prevention actually being done.

Forest fire prevention measures

The forests cannot be cleaned (e.g. with mincing machinery) to prevent new fires as on the mainland because of the geography of the island. Old debris piles up, this cannot be avoided. Controlled fires also cannot be applied well on a mountainous island. Fires cannot be prevented but they will be controlled and extinguished in an effective manner.

Wild Camping

Wild camping is not a problem for the firefighters because in the old forests, the humidity is high, and it is less likely that a tourist can create a wildfire there.  The Laurissilva does not burn.


Arsonists set fires; some of them are even known to the police and population. Proof is very difficult to come by. Many have mental health issues and judges tend toward leniency and let them off with a slap on the wrist. This is frustrating for the Civil Protection and other authorities as catching them in the act, in order to obtain proof is problematical.

Fire towers

The old fire towers have been reactivated and are staffed by the Forest Police, but it is difficult to find people to sit in a tower all day and watch for smoke. An island-wide camera system has been established; it is still in beta phase, but once fully functional, it will detect smoke much more reliably. Currently, the sensors are too sensitive and raise an alarm with every passing car that drives down the mountain – heat from the brakes. However, once the initial bugs are identified and fixed, this will be an invaluable detection aid.

Controlled burning

If farmers have land rubbish, which has to be removed during summer (when lighting a fire is strictly forbidden), the fire brigades will accompany this and make sure nothing goes wrong. Farmers often underestimate the” small” fires they light themselves, they may not be aware that such a fire is still burring underneath when they leave.

The type of trees is also important for fire hazards. The islands endemic species have a low fuel yield and do not burn easily, but can be damaged by pests. Eucalyptus and Mimosa are not endemic, and burn easily, they also spread their seed with the help of fire. Eucalyptus is a “good” tree for wood paper making, but bad for the island’s environment. These species also displace endemic plants, suck up the water around them, creating a barren leaf litter which burns easily.

Landslides, falling trees

These events are unavoidable on this island, we will have to live with the risks. After the Monte tree tragedy, local councils cut down any tree they thought could cause a problem.

Coming up: fire control, construction after 2010, global warming

Ursula Hahn

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