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Portugal Sends Delegation To PSW To Observe Wildland Fire Management

  • By Kerry Greene, Public Affairs Specialist, Fire and Aviation Management, Pacific Southwest Region
A man gives a presentation to a class. Men and women sit inside helicopter simulation cockpits. Men and women sit inside helicopter simulation cockpits. A man shows a group of people his computer screen. Men and women stand in a circle listening to a tour guide. Men and women climb into a firefighting plane. Men and women climb into a firefighting plane.

The 2017 fire season was the worst ever for Portugal resulting in 110 deaths and 1.3 million acres burned, in a country roughly the size of the state of Indiana. The fire season had two major fire outbreaks; one in June, which killed more than 60 people. Forty seven of those deaths occurred on a highway due to inadequate evacuation planning. Later that year in October nearly 45 people were killed in a wind-driven fire event, bolstered by the remains of an eastern Atlantic hurricane.

Similarly, two of the most historic fire events in California fire history occurred in 2017. On Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, a series of wildfires ignited, devastating approximately 245,000 acres of Northern California. These fires in the counties of Sonoma, Lake, and Napa Region were the most destructive on record. Later that same year in December the Thomas Fire, considered to be the largest California fire in modern recorded history took place. It affected the heavily populated communities of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Responders worked in a unified command structure over the holidays to extinguish the fire. The flash floods and mudslides that occurred due to subsequent rain storms in the Thomas Fire area have caused additional significant damage and loss of life.

During that same month the U.S. Embassy in Portugal arranged for a three-person team of USDA Forest Service wildfire experts to travel to the southern European country to observe the effects of their 2017 fire season. The team provided Portuguese officials with recommendations to improve their fire management systems across the response, rehabilitation, and recovery spectrum. One recommendation was for Portuguese officials from various agencies that deal with wildfire to visit the U.S. to observe wildland fire management strategies, procedures, and practices.

In April of 2018, a group of officials from Portugal visited the U.S. After a brief stop at the National Interagency Fire Center, the delegates made their way to the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service. Among the delegates were high-ranking, agriculture, forestry and emergency response officials, firefighters, political analysts, a military colonel and a meteorologist. The group was treated to presentations and site visits across California that stimulated dialogue around the topics of, Firewise communities, training and qualifications, decision support mechanisms, the Incident Command System, post fire rehabilitation issues and wildland-urban interface.

In California the delegates made visits to the Wildland Fire Training Center, CAL FIRE aviation base at McClellan, California Office of Emergency Services (OES) Operations Center and a field visit to the Santa Rosa area fires, near Napa. The striking similarities between challenges faced by both countries in their efforts to respond to extremely complex fire situations over the last year became very clear as the delegates met with professional fire responders, planners, trainers and strategists from the Forest Service, CAL FIRE and OES. California and Portugal share a similar Mediterranean climate and both locations experienced prolonged fire seasons in 2017.