Portugal will use long range drones and other surveillance to reinforce monitoring of summer wildfires, officials said responding to concerns over readiness to tackle forest blazes during the coronavirus pandemic.
European Union data shows Portugal is one of the worst-hit countries by fires every year in the bloc. A root cause of frequent wildfires is parts of the interior are deserted as people have left to live in cities or abroad and the job of clearing trees and bushes is ignored, creating a fire risk.
Municipalities and firefighters say risk could have intensified during the coronavirus lockdown over the past two months.
Environment Minister Joao Matos Fernandes said 12 drones, each with a range of 100 km and an eight hour endurance, would be deployed from the end of June, when higher temperatures make fires more likely.
Officials said last month around 100 firefighters were infected by coronavirus.
Fernandes said for now at least, the coronavirus outbreak is unlikely to have any notable impact on firefighters ready to tackle forest fires.
“Firefighters prepared themselves to reduce the risk of contagion but we cannot say a decrease in human resources won’t happen,” Fernandes told a news conference. “That’s why we reinforced vigilance.”
In June last year major wildfires in central Portugal burned 8 500 hectares, destroying houses and forcing authorities to evacuate villagers, who said there were not enough firefighters and resources to combat the flames.
In June 2017, a huge wildfire near Pedrogao Grande killed 64 people and injured more than 250.
Defence Minister Joao Cravinho said the army would send soldiers to support residents and firefighters during the wildfire season if needed.
There are concerns about delays in land clearing, essential to prevent or slow down wildfires.
A survey by services platform Fixando of 600 land clearing providers showed 77% experienced a drop in demand due to coronavirus and government lockdown measures.