Why Is Portugal So Susceptible to Forest Fires?

Fires in Portugal
Fires in Portugal | © Paulo M. F. Pires / Shutterstock
Nina Santos

One month ago, the Pedrógão Grande area in central Portugal was ravaged by a devastating forest fire that killed 64 people and left hundreds injured. The scene left behind resembled a horror movie, and people have called the incident the most devastating forest fire in the country’s history. Unfortunately, however, fires are a common occurrence, and while other southern European countries also fall victim to them each summer, Portugal is by far the worst hit.

Rural Portugal, mostly in the center and northern parts of the country, experience fires each summer due to an extremely hot and dry climate paired with criminal activity and negligent behavior. These threats are so common that several large incidents have taken place over the past few decades.

Forest fire in Monção, Portugal

Why are fires worse in Portugal?

This question has a long and winding answer. There are multiple reasons why fires cause more devastation in Portugal than other southern European countries, and in addition to the climate, economics seem to play a major role. More times than not, these two factors piggyback off each other.

In an effort to bring money to the country, Portugal introduced eucalyptus trees from Australia to its forested areas. Known for many medicinal properties, from anti-inflammation to antibacterial and its usefulness in treating various skin conditions, they have become a popular export. Unfortunately, these trees produce oils and litter that are also extremely flammable.

Burned down olive trees after a fire

In the case of 2017’s Pedrógão Grande fires, lightning from a dry storm (an event that happens when extreme heat causes rain to evaporate before it hits the land) struck down in a poorly managed, forested area. Dry winds during the heat wave only made matters worse as they allowed flames to spread.

Another problem is a lack of manpower. Due to the economic crisis that has plagued Portugal for decades, some small towns and villages have become abandoned. Citizens, especially the younger working class, are moving to the larger cities to seek employment opportunities, and fewer people are interested in managing rural land.

Continental Portugal is not the only location that has fallen victim, however, and in 2016, the city of Funchal in Madeira Island also experienced a few disastrous fires caused by illegal activity.

What can Portuguese residents do to prevent disasters in the future?

Two ways the government can work to prevent large-scale fires in the future include the management of rural, forested land and replacing eucalyptus with native oak and pine trees. Residents can also do their part by being mindful—in particular, refraining from starting illegal fires. All it takes is a small spark to light a flame, meaning everything from cigarette trash to fireworks can lead to a disaster.

Burned forest land
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.