The announcement that new firefighting aircraft were to be ordered was made this morning by the Defence Minister in a parliamentary meeting to discuss the 2018 State Budget.

Azeredo Lopes says that the investment of around €100 million emphasises the government’s commitment to sorting out firefighting responsibilities and providing an effective service.

The set-up of a new Integrated Rural Fire System includes a 2019 start date for the Air Force to take full command of aerial firefighting support.

A top level working group that included the Prime Minister, António Costa and the ministers of Internal Administration, Agriculture, and the Secretaries of State for Civil Protection, Defence, Spatial Planning and Nature Conservation and Forests and Rural Development, spent the day gathering information from international fire prevention experts from America, Spain and Germany.

Asked by journalists about using the Portuguese Air Force, the ‘Forest Tsar’ – Tiago Martins Oliveira, said that the Air Force is one of the branches of the Armed Forces that will participate in fighting fires as it will be managing the air support resources.

As for looking at foreign methodology, “All the countries that we have been looking at do not always use the same systems, they adapt to the threats and respond in a flexible way depending on the meteorological conditions,” said Oliveira.

In the press conference after today’s meeting, Oliveira stressed that there will have to be changes in “extended combat” planning and an improvement in the “initial attack.”

“In Portugal what has to happen is that the initial attack is maintained, it is improved, but the extended firefighting response has to undergo an adjustment so that it is possible to safeguard people’s lives and not simply let the mountains burn,” said Oliveira who, having listened to the experts, concluded, “Portugal has all the pieces to complete the puzzle, we have to piece it together and all work together cooperatively in a coordinated manner.”

Oliveira added that there is an urgent need to guarantee a boost in the number of firefighters that will be needed and to manage vegetation around urban areas with the help and collaboration of municipal and parish councils.

Asked if the international experiences can be replicated in Portugal, Oliveira said that firefighting uses “a set of rules and procedures that are standardised,” but that it is necessary to adapt to local conditions and the type of vegetation.

The US experts, Mark Beighley and Vicki Christiansen, were joined by Johann Goldammer from Germany and Jose Joquatot, Tomaz Fernandez and Juan Sanchez from Spain.

Asking the opinion of foreign firefighting experts possibly is a first for Portugal whose politicians and civil defence leaders have been criticised for not really knowing what they are doing when faced with serious fires such as those that swept across parts of Portugal’s interior this summer, leaving 110 people dead.

News courtesey of http://algarvedailynews.com/news