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Fighting fire with ... goats

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Fighting fire with ... goats

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It’s a pastoral scene familiar to many parts of southern Europe - a herd of goats quietly grazing on the hills of Portugal’s Algarve region.

But these animals are on the front line of the government’s efforts to avoid a repeat of the deadly wildfires that swept through central Portugal a year ago.

At least 66 people were killed and more than 200 injured in the worst disaster of its kind to hit Portugal.

The goats can chew their way through tonnes of vegetation, reducing the amount of dry grass that helps the wildfires spread so rapidly.

They eat most of the dry grass and trample on the rest so that if a fire breaks out, there’s little fuel left to burn.

They can also reach areas that no machinery can get to.

Miguel Freitas, Portugal's Forest and Rural Development Minister, said the government wanted to develop the idea of using goats to clear tinder dry vegetation in remote parts of the country.

"We want whole highways of barriers as part of a program that can also give certainty to the goat herders. The herders will know five years in advance that they will have the government’s support to develop their activities.’’

Many of last year’s victims died on roads as they tried to escape the fires.

The government plans to use the goats, as well as bulldozers, to clear woodland 10 metres either side of country roads.

Property owners must clear a 50-metre area around an isolated house, and 100 metres around a hamlet.

Emergency shelters and evacuation routes are also being established in villages, and their church bells will now toll when a wildfire approaches.