Fabio Silva works in Portugal in the Special Civil Protection Force, an organization integrated in the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority. Silva has command functions at the national level. He currently coordinates the Fire Analysis and Use Group.
Through the #PCFWebinar, Fábio had the opportunity to explain the meteorology of recent years, the evolution of fires to date, what are the current challenges and what solutions are currently being proposed. In addition, he was able to analyze the recent Oleiros fire.
1.- What is the importance of real-time meteorological analysis to support the operational decision in large forest fires? How is the information transmitted to those who make operational decisions in command posts?
Analyzing and interpreting weather forecasts is central, but having real-time access to observed data is even more crucial to understanding the dynamics that are changing in the operations scenario. There it is important that a step be taken towards obtaining adequate meteorological stations so that the territory is well represented.
It should be noted that it is not enough to have access to all the meteorological information. It is also essential to know which products should be analyzed at all times and to carry out the appropriate translation of the consequences that each indicator can represent for the evolution of fires.
The decision support core completes a document (a pre-structured and pre-submitted document). The distribution cycle is as follows: the element of the National Service Command validates the output of the document and distributes it through the District Commander, who realizes the expected situation and distributes it to the Director of extinction.
2.- Does the existence of population centers in the claim area constitute an effective restriction in the way in which operations are carried out? Could this existence lead to bigger and more serious fires, due to the need to divert the means to protect populations?
Yes. It constitutes a great difficulty for the operation of extinguishing forest fires. The dispersion of the means to protect the populations, which in extreme cases results in confinement or evacuations and lead to a loss of objectivity in firefighting operations, being a much more complex operation. The first priority is always the protection of lives and property.
Video of the Webinar on "Analysis of the fires in Portugal"
3.- What is the weight of working with heavy machinery in the extinction of IIFF in Portugal?
Heavy machinery has an increasing weight in fire fighting operations and mainly in the consolidation of fires in Portugal. There is a very different dynamic in the use of machinery, which varies according to the territory, the experience of the agents and the availability of resources. However, there is a very clear bet on this type of resources that allows the release of many terrestrial resources for fire fighting, having many times greater effectiveness in the consolidation of perimeters.
4.- How many fire analysis groups are there in Portugal? If all are under the responsibility of FEB, how many groups are considered permanently adequate for the total coverage of the territory?
There are several structures in Portugal that contribute to the content of the fire analysis. However, there are only three who go to the fires and rely on the extinguishing director in planning and management operations.
The ideal would be two for each group of districts, which in the case of the continental part of Portugal would be 10. This number would allow quick responses and with adequate geographical proximity, which would allow more parts of the territory to be influenced in situations of simultaneous fires.
5.- Are there any type of specialist units or firefighters that are assigned to areas of urban-forest interface?
In Portugal, firefighters have transversal training for all the cases to which they respond, with technical capacity and resources for the protection of the urban forest interface. In rural / forest fires, teams equipped with urban firefighting vehicles are often assigned and have only this mission. However, we cannot consider their vocation as specialized teams only for this function, since they have more skills.
6.- What emergency management system is used in Portugal? Is it based on the ICS or the French fire brigade system? And who holds the role of extinguishing director, is a fire professional or are they forest managers?
The emergency management system in use in Portugal originates from France. ICS is not used.
The role of the Extinguishing Director is not exclusive to a specialized operator, or even mountain managers. In Portugal, Extinction Directors are elements of the Fire Command and, in some cases, the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority can call the Operation Command, through the Commanders of its operational structure, who come from different types of careers and in most cases they are not civil servants.
7.- Is there a time limit during the extinction work?
There is no defined limit beyond which the combatant has the strength to fight the fire.
8.-Sand informs the operatives of the behavior of the fire, the thermal phenomena, ...?
Yes. This information is made through the Decision Support Center for Rural Fire Analysis. In any case, I personally think that it is necessary to learn much more about these phenomena, provide training and standardize language, articulate a faster way of transmitting information, and define uniform operating procedures for each situation.
The entry of convective cells and major storms, associated with long periods of atmospheric instability, is a constant in Portugal, with a dynamic of very rapid evolution that currently deserves special attention and treatment, since it can cause fatal accidents.
9.- How can this greater availability of biomass be exploited to reduce the incidence of forest fires?
This question is very pertinent and I would ask it as follows: How do we turn challenges into opportunities? The biomass we are currently talking about has little economic value. In my opinion, this is the fundamental point that must be worked on, that is, so that a certain territory does not burn, value must be created so that there is margin and motivation to protect oneself.
One of the suggestions is the creation of biomass plants for energy production, which, if profitable, could constitute a source of income for a type of vegetation that is currently not exploited.
10.- From your experience in Chile in 2017, what differences are most noticeable regarding work in forest fires?
A very notable difference is the development of night work. In Portugal it is crucial to work at night in fires, since it is generally the time of day that we will be most successful in extinguishing the fire.
Another difference is the forms of communication, from the analysis center to the operations scene. At the moment, there is a single event management system in Portugal, backed by a system GIS (FEB Monitoring), that allows a dynamic and bilateral communication of those who plan fires from the national to the local level. In Chile, I understand that they already had a good fire analysis system at the time, but that it was often difficult to get information to the theaters of operations. I think Portugal it would need to promote more material work in the fires.
Between these two countries there are some operational and even territorial similarities with great potential to explore through the exchange of training experiences and in a real work context, since there are already good synergies and a good relationship between countries. The fact that your fire campaign is out of time can be a plus point.
11.- When to join the work and interact with different technicians accredited by EAUF?
The Fire Analysis and Use Group (GAUF) already works all year with various technicians and groups from different backgrounds, favoring the exchange of experiences and common learning. It is one of the dynamics highly valued by GAUF and is already widely explored today, with the prospect of working with new partners in the near future.
12.- How is coordination with Spain articulated in border fires? Are there joint Spain-Portugal practices? Protocols? Communication in both directions?
There is a cross-border agreement that allows the two countries to intervene in the first 15 km across the border.
I think overall the relationship between the two countries is quite good, however my personal perspective is that more joint activities and articulation of joint work procedures should be promoted for all obvious reasons but also because in big fires For forestry companies such as those that have occurred in recent years, it is increasingly important to have a good international interaction previously articulated, so that operations are more successful and operations evolve faster with the exchange of information by both parties.
13.- Wouldn't having a heavy rainy season guarantee a statistically smoother fire season?
No. Having winters with a lot of rain and springs with rain interspersed with very hot and sunny months, promotes the growth of a lot of biomass and mainly fine fuels. We know that it is the live fuels that "govern" the great fires, so it is important to have this biomass generated from one year to the next.
The consequence of having this type of seasonal meteorology and this biomass rich in fine fuels has the following consequence:
- At an early stage of the campaign, the vegetation has more humidity and even with a few weeks with heat waves, the fires do not evolve much and we see those columns of smoke less dense and with a lot of humidity (we monitor with the use of NDWI and percentage of water in the soil and we also evaluated the DC).
- When fuels enter a phase of water stress, they still maintain their vertical state, but with a level of dryness that allows the generation of large fires, being a very complicated period of fire intensity.
- Finally, when the DC falls, we know that we need constant rains to significantly change the drought rate, but this happens practically every summer, the big difference during years like 2020 in Portugal, with rainy winters is that this increase in biomass, which has already It has a low CC, its availability varies easily and even with the entrance of humidity or even some rain they quickly lose their humidity and maintain a constant high potential for large fires, since there is a lot of dry biomass that promotes rapid fires from their conception.
14.- What planning do you do to manage the fuel and the landscape?
At the national level, a great effort has been made for the population to cut the vegetation around their homes, thus promoting greater security in urban areas, with strong supervision and legislation in this regard.
The practice of prescribed burning is also an important tool in this area of fire planning and prevention.
The main problems in applying this type of dynamics described are the following:
- Cutting: The cutting of vegetation when carried out at the beginning of the year is not very effective, since the meteorology of constant rains and periods of dry and hot climate promote the rapid growth of the vegetation, being necessary to do a lot in a short time (before the start of the fire campaign)
- Adequate prescription periods for controlled burning are very short, as many of the periods when fuels are very humid are readily available for fires and do not leave many days to burn.
In short, lThe most effective interventions are those that take place just before the time. Prevention.