I. Framework

Over the last few months, Portugal has been affected by a significant number of large-scale forest fires. According to information provided by the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) 356 forest fires (fires covering an area of 30 hectares or more) were recorded up to 19 October 2017; these have impacted a total area of 520,515 hectares1 - an average area of approximately 1,462 hectares per fire. This figure is four times higher than the corresponding average area calculated for the years 2008 to 2016 (about 357 hectares per forest fire).

In general terms, and notwithstanding the result of ANACOM’s ongoing assessment on the security and integrity of electronic communications networks and services, being carried out pursuant to the provisions of Law no. 5/2004 of February 10 (Lei das Comunicações Eletrónicas - Electronic Communications Law) and of Decree-Law no. 39/2015 of 16 March (ANACOM Statutes), the preliminary information held by ANACOM in terms of the overall impact on electronic communications of forest fires occurring so far in 2017, indicates the following:

  • Radiocommunications stations
    - over two hundred radiocommunications station installation sites affected;
  • Poles, cables and aerial routes
    - over 500 kilometres of communications cables burned (including copper and optical fibre cables);
    - over six thousand poles burned.

The available information also indicates the following districts/municipalities of mainland Portugal as being impacted:

  • Aveiro: Águeda, Anadia, Arouca, Castelo de Paiva, Mealhada, Oliveira do Bairro, São João da Madeira, Sever do Vouga, Vagos, Vale de Cambra;
  • Braga: Braga, Guimarães, Póvoa de Lanhoso, Terras de Bouro, Vieira do Minho, Vizela;
  • Bragança: Macedo de Cavaleiros;
  • Castelo Branco: Belmonte, Castelo Branco, Covilhã, Fundão, Manteigas, Oleiros, Penamacor, Sertã;
  • Coimbra: Arganil, Cantanhede, Condeixa-a-Nova, Coimbra, Figueira da Foz, Góis, Lousã, Mira, Mirando do Corvo, Oliveira do Hospital, Pampilhosa da Serra, Penacova, Penela, Tábua, Vila Nova de Poiares;
  • Guarda: Almeida, Celorico da Beira, Fornos de Algodres, Gouveia, Guarda, Manteigas, Sabugal, Seia, Trancoso;
  • Leiria: Bombarral, Castanheira de Pêra, Figueiró dos Vinhos, Marinha Grande, Pedrogão Grande, Peniche;
  • Porto: Baião, Gondomar, Vila Nova de Gaia;
  • Santarém: Abrantes; Mação;
  • Viana do Castelo: Arcos de Valdevez, Melgaço, Monção, Ponte da Barca, Valença;
  • Vila Real: Boticas, Montalegre, Vila Real;
  • Viseu: Carregal do Sal, Castro Daire, Cinfães, Mangualde, Mortágua, Nelas, Oliveira de Frades, Penalva do Castelo, Santa Comba Dão, São Pedro do Sul, Tondela, Viseu, Vouzela.

Based on the evaluation criteria for rural fire hazard index in mainland Portugal and under the terms of article 5 of Decree-Law no. 124/2006 of 28 June, ICNF - Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests) has classified the territory into five classes; the two classes of highest hazard are designated "High" (class IV) and "Very high" (class V). On its website2, ICNF posts a forest fire hazard map for 2017, in which the geographical areas corresponding to each class are indicated.

According to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and documents produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)3, forest fires are among the most destructive natural disasters for electronic communications infrastructure, and as in the case of other extreme events (e.g. floods or landslides), their intensity and frequency is expected to increase as a result of climate change.

ITU-T (ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector) has developed a set of recommendations (Series L) on the environment and on information and communication technologies (ICT), as well as on the construction, installation and protection of cables and other components of outdoor infrastructure (see annex for list of references). These recommendations are used internationally as a benchmark for the adoption of best practice. In the case of forest fires, the most vulnerable components of outdoor infrastructure are poles, especially wooden poles, and aerial communications cables.

At an international level there are several countries, Sweden4 and the United States5, which, in order to enhance the level of protection given to electronic communications network infrastructure, have encouraged or have established rules on the use of advanced techniques for the installation of underground communications cables (for example, use of micro or mini trenches), as well as on the clearing and thinning of undergrowth and the crowns of the surrounding trees, thereby establishing a safety perimeter around above-ground infrastructure.

1 According to information from EFFIS, the total area burned will be 650,644 hectares.
2 Cartografia de Risco - mapa de perigosidade de Incêndio Florestal http://www.icnf.pt/portal/florestas/dfci/inc/cartografia/map-perig-incend-flor.
3 Recommendation ITU-T L.1502 (11/2015) - Adapting information and communication technology infrastructure to the effects of climate change.
4 Robust fiberanläggning http://www.pts.se/sv/Bransch/Internet/Robust-kommunikation/Atgarder/Robust-fiberanlaggning/ and Robust fiber http://robustfiber.se/.
5 CAL FIRE http://www.fire.ca.gov/.