Fires are the main driver of land degradation in forest areas in Mediterranean sub-humid regions and are likely to increase as a result of climate and other global changes. To prevent deleterious processes induced by fire, several policies and strategies have been implemented at national and regional scales. We perform a comparative study of policies and strategies of Portuguese and Spanish (Comunitat Valenciana) cases in order to assess the differences between them and identify their roles in forest fire prevention and in combating and mitigating impacts. To this end, we analyse the sustainability objectives stated in the legislation of each country to identify the strategies used to deal with forest fires and the extent to which they are integrated to achieve the sustainability objectives they pursue. The comparative analysis includes an assessment of sustainability, evaluated by the explicitness of the objectives, and identification of how the lines of action contribute to reach these objectives. We found different levels of complexity and that the adoption or rejection of some of the techniques is closely related to the tradition and the experience of local communities. This analysis highlights the importance of local characteristics and the stakeholders, involvement in designing effective strategies to reduce fire risk. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.