Monster blaze reaches Monchique town and heads south
Latest news of the fierce blaze raging now for over 72 hours in countryside around Monchique is that it has destroyed a number of houses and ‘broken the barrier’ from the north side of the mountain towards the south, encroaching on land within the boroughs of Portimão and Silves (see update below).
Mass evacuations were actioned throughout the night, with people with ‘reduced mobility’ and other frailties being rapidly collected and taken to a safe place, described as “a school far from the path of the fire”, and others following.
At midnight a rural hotel was cleared of guests, as the town too was subject to forced evacuations.
Localities affected include Caldas de Monchique, Rasmalho, Monchicão, Barranco do Banho and Montinho.
Reporters on the ground say people were “taken by surprise”. They simply didn’t believe the flames would suddenly encroach so far.
News coming through as Monday gets started is that there have been a number of injuries (31 among firefighters, 11 affecting civilians), with one elderly lady in a “serious condition” airlifted to Lisbon’s Santa Maria hospital.
Last night the fire reached the outskirts of the town. Today at 8am the situation was ‘unclear’ in that press briefings had yet to come.
Reporters who have made it up to the town and nearby village of Alferce describe a scene of devastation, with houses burning, animals roaming and “hardly a person in sight”.
The British government has sent out a warning to tourists in Monchique to “follow the instructions of police and Civil Protection” and “for their safety, trips to the area of Monchique are not advised under any circumstances” until Portuguese authorities give the all clear.
Latest official data shows that over 1000 firefighters are now in this battle, backed by over 300 vehicles.
Early morning sees firefighting support still on the ground, but the planes and helicopters are expected to start work again shortly. One ‘heavy duty’ Kamov helicopter is apparently “on the way”.
Today could be decisive in that the extraordinary temperatures of the last few days are dropping, but visibility is affected now by intense smoke.
Elsewhere, the ‘other front’ has forced its way through all means of combat into the borough of Odemira (click here).
Yesterday late afternoon SIC noticias reported that firefighters were hoping for ‘reinforcements’ in the form of a further 16 JCB earthmovers that will “work through the night” clearing land before the fires reach it as “man- and airpower combined cannot beat this blaze” with water alone.
But within 20 minutes SIC’s reports changed from calm delivery to clear panic: the fire was on the parish of Alferce on the southside of the mountain.
The fear was that unless it is stopped, the huge amount of forestland stretching from Alferce towards Silves will join this conflagration, putting further lives and property at risk.
GNR police were said to be “taking no chances” and practically forcing people to evacuate.
Only the most obstinate dyed-in-the-wool ‘Monchiquense’ (locals) who have weathered incidents like this in the past have refused to budge as a total of 32 JCBs arrived to try and avert further disaster through the night.
As people have been saying with increasing frequency, the horror of the fires of 2003 is back.
Ashes from the blaze started falling as far south as Lagoa and Portimão on Sunday.
Somewhere in the maelstrom of news came the fact that former British prime minister David Cameron is once again in Monchique enjoying a family holiday.
Said the Express: “Sources told the Daily Mirror Mr Cameron, who is said to be with his family, was lunching in Monchique on Friday before the blaze started.
“It is believed that he has been receiving updates on the fire from a British diplomat” who has been attending the various Civil Protection press briefings.
By now Mr Cameron may well have taken the advice of the British government and left the burning mountain.
UPDATE: BY lunchtime today authorities were able to report that the fires are slowly being brought under control. If the wind doesn’t pick up too dramatically this afternoon, today could signal a miraculous change.
Latest estimates for the area of land devastated have stretched from “over 1000 hectares” to at least 15,000 possibly 20,000.
Official word is the fire is 95% ‘dominated’, but this seems to have been precipitous as new outbreaks are being registered all the time.
Two Canadair water bombers – the kind of planes Monchique could have done with from the start – are arriving today from Spain.
At 4pm, news reports say the fire’s return to force has prompted further evacuations, this time in Fóia and Alcaria do Peso.
The wind has changed, areas previously threatened are once again under attack, and various new blazes have broken out.
Helicopters remain on the ground due to intense smoke… “the Monchique fire is once again out of control”, say reporters.
Photo: uploaded from Facebook page: Bombeiros Portugueses