By Anders Lorenzen
Last year we reported on Portugal’s tragic wildfires.
The wildfires were the most devastating in Portuguese history. At the time the Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the event the country’s biggest human tragedy in living memory. In June over 1,000 firefighters struggled to contain the fire for several days. In October the wildfires broke out again, as areas of Portugal were subject to Iberian wildfires which also engulfed Spanish regions. In Portugal, the deadly fires claimed 114 lives.
Now, as the rebuilding begins the firefighters are back. This time joining the army and 3000 volunteers, in what is seen as the first steps to restore the 520,000 hectares that the wildfires destroyed. The affected area in Portugal accounts for 60% of the total area in Europe lost to wildfires in the 2017 season.
This action saw 67,500 trees planted which is still only a drop in the ocean compared to the 30 million new trees needed in order to re-establish what was lost.
The tree planting took place in the Leiria pine forest which was nearly wiped out by the forest fires, with 80% of the forest being destroyed.
Alexandra Serodio, one of the organizers of the reforestation effort explained why the project meant so much for him: “We come from this region, we all used this forest, we had picnics here, this is a place where our families met. The fire changed things for us.”
During the collaborative tree planting effort tree saplings were planted across the earth previously scorched by the fires. But it will be some time before the trees reach the heights at which they stood prior to the blaze, and have the capacity to store the same amount of carbon.
But as summer approaches, with increasingly larger probabilities of heat waves year on year due to climate change, how does the government plan to adapt to such impacts in the future? The government says it has stepped up efforts to prevent a repeat of the fires, especially in the interior where forest fires have become more common as land is abandoned. A key step has been to push landowners to clear their lands of undergrowth which can cause fires.
But a more worrying trend might be communicated by scientists who indicate that due to a warming climate the fire season has extended from two to five months during the last half-century. So in the future, many more resources might be needed to fight the fires effectively. Serodio and the other 2999 volunteers might not want to get too comfortable with the novelty of the action, the army of those involved in reforestation may be needed more often as the risk of forest fires increases in a warming climate.