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Forest Service provides technical support in wake of severe fire season in Portugal

PORTUGAL — Based on the severity and length of the 2017 wildfire season in Portugal, which resulted in the deadliest summer of blazes in modern history, the government of Portugal indicated it would accept assistance from the government of the United States. As a part of this assistance, in mid-December, the U.S. Embassy in Portugal arranged for a team of Forest Service wildfire experts to travel to Portugal to consult with counterparts there, observe the effects of the fires and provide initial recommendations on methods to improve fire management systems across the response, rehabilitation and recovery spectrum. These recommendations for strategies on how to improve Portugal’s methods of managing and preparing for future wildfires focus on two particular areas: Incident Command System and Burned Area Emergency Response.

The three-person team included Liz Schnackenberg, hydrologist and BAER specialist on the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests; Larry Sutton, assistant director for Operations for Fire and Aviation at the National Interagency Fire Center and Tom Frey, a disaster management specialist with over 30 years of experience in on both the domestic and international level, having worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Forest Service, and Department of the Interior.

Photo: A man looks out over a forest burned by wildfire.
Larry Sutton surveys the burned areas of Leiria National Forest in Portugal in December 2017. Photo courtesy of Tom Frey, Forest Service consultant.

The team met various agencies from the Portuguese government and disaster response sector, including the Mission Structure for the Integrated Rural Fires Management System, the Portuguese Forest Service, and the Civil Protection agency. The team also visited several burned areas and new treatment areas, as well as the Firefighters National School.

At the conclusion of the trip, the team shared their findings and recommendations to the U.S. Embassy in Portugal, who will coordinate dissemination and discussion among the Portuguese hosts. Both sides hope for continued collaboration in the future.