Photo: LUÍS FORRA/LUSA

Castro Marim fire continues to rage: 9,000 hectares destroyed; 81 people and 200 animals evacuated

The Algarve’s civil protection commander confirmed this morning that 9,000 hectares of land have already been destroyed by the wildfire that started yesterday in Castro Marim and has spread to Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

But authorities predict that, “by the time it is brought under control, it may have already destroyed 20,000 hectares.” So said Commander Richard Marques at a press conference held this morning to address the wildfire, which has forced the evacuation of 81 people from their homes and nearly 200 animals (80 dogs and 110 cats) from the Castro Marim and VRSA inter-municipal kennel.

Many of the people who were evacuated have been allowed to return home, while dozens are still being provided accommodation at the “support” areas that were set up in Azinhal (Castro Marim) and Tavira.

Meanwhile, a local animal association has thanked everyone who helped take their animals to safety.

“Our kennel was in danger and civil protection authorities ordered us to evacuate for the safety of the animals. The number of people who appeared ready to help us was a breath of fresh air amidst the anxiety and fear,” wrote Guadi-Centro de Animais, an animal association that supports the local kennel, on its Facebook page.

“Dogs and cats were taken to private homes, other kennels and animal associations,” it added, thanking all those who came to their rescue.

Authorities are now focusing on preventing the fire from spreading even further and bringing it under control as soon as possible. But this is easier said than done, as Marques explained.

Scorching weather and strong winds are yet again expected for today, and the direction of the winds are expected to change this afternoon, which could add a new layer of unpredictability to the already-strained firefighting efforts.

One head-scratching moment came when GNR spokesperson Marco Henrique who said that the police force had no record of any houses damaged or destroyed by the fire apart from a workshop, when just hours earlier RTP had aired footage of a devastated homeowner saying that the flames had reached his house and that he did not even have time to retrieve any documents or any other clothes apart from what he was wearing.

Said Henrique, “there may have been damage that we are not aware of yet, but our efforts have been focused on protecting people.”

He said that an evaluation of the damages caused will be conducted when the blaze is finally extinguished.

A reporter also questioned Richard Marques if there had been any “neglect” involved that allowed the fire, which had been brought under control yesterday at 10.20am, to reignite.

“Fires reignite. Bringing a fire under control does not mean that they are extinguished,” he answered, adding that the fire reignited “very quickly” with a new front which spread to populated areas.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. PJ police are due to investigate, the GNR police spokesperson said.

Also attending the press conference was Castro Marim Mayor, Francisco Amaral, who spoke candidly about the “horrific moments” that he witnessed last night.

“There were people, young couples, who were in despair because they had lost their sources of income,” he said, adding that he witnessed residents fighting the flames on their own, using water hoses to fend off the blaze.

Amaral said he has already contacted the regional agriculture board (DRAP) which guaranteed that those who had been affected by the fire would be entitled to the same support measures as those offered to the victims of this summer’s wildfire in Monchique and Portimão.

Authorities have also urged people to avoid travelling to the affected areas, unless necessary, although traffic on the A22 motorway and EN125 national road has already been reestablished.

A second press conference is planned for later today at 7pm to provide an update on firefighting efforts.

As we write this story, the blaze is being battled by 630 firefighters, aided by 209 vehicles and eight planes and helicopters.

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com