LISBON, March 25 (Xinhua) -- The Portuguese president and prime minister, as well as several government ministers, on Saturday took part in forest clearance programs across the country, in an effort to reduce the potential for wildfires.
"It's a national cause," Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told reporters at the Peneda-Geres National Park in the northern part of the country, where he supported local efforts to clear up combustible scrub and debris.
"Our society has seen a giant leap forward by increasing people's proximity to forests and attaching greater significance to forests," he added.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa, dressed in overalls and wearing protective headgear, worked with a stringed-trimmer in Ameixial, a village in the southern part of the country.
"We have to break this vicious circle of abandonment -- a lack of income from the forests leads to the result that nobody cleans them," Costa told the Lusa Portuguese News Agency.
Minister for Justice Francisca Van Dunem donned gloves and a hardhat to take part in the clearance work in woods around the Alcoentre Prison in Azambuja, a town near Lisbon. The prison is launching a pilot scheme in training inmates to do forest clearance and management.
"They will be awarded a certificate when they are set free, which can help them enter the profession," she said.
Besides the president and the prime minister, about 20 government ministers also took part in the forest clearance efforts, which were organized by the National Republican Guard (GNR) and the Forest Fire Brigade.
The government has set March 15 as the deadline for landlords and tenants to clear potential flammable trees, bushes and undergrowth from their properties. Municipal authorities have the right to enter private property to clear the land themselves after that, according to the GNR and the Forest Fire Brigade.
The clearance efforts are to prevent Portugal from any devastating forest fire. In 2017 more than a hundred people died in wildfires in Portugal.