Saturday saw Portugal finally accept that it cannot cope with this year’s fires without outside help.
With the north and centre literally on fire – Algarve residents driving ‘home’ from Spain have testified to “fires everywhere” – the European Civil Protection Mechanism was ‘activated’ last night.
Minister for Internal Administration Constança Urbano de Sousa dubbed it a “question of prudence” bearing in mind atmospheric conditions for the next few days are unlikely to see a dip in intense temperatures or prevailing winds.
According to national media, the first planes from Spain have already arrived, and extra manpower is also expected.
This morning as many as 5000 firefighters are battling serious blazes deemed ‘out of control’ in as many as nine locations in Braga, Porto, Aveiro, Viseu, Coimbra, Cantanhede, Montemor-o-Velho, Tomar and Ferreiro do Zézere.
Tabloid Correio da Manhã giving a picture of Saturday’s horrors started its report with: “five firefighters burnt, 58 scouts surrounded by flames, one woman suffering 2nd and 3rd degree burns, roads and motorways closed, villages evacuated, people evacuated by boat from Castelo de Bode dam, and mayors all pointing their fingers at failures”.
Once again Civil Protection’s SIRESP communications system came under attack for its failings, particularly by prime minister António Costa in Expresso – in which he laid the blame firmly in the lap of PT (now owned by French giant Altice) for having overhead cables, instead of burying them underground.
As he told the paper, what happens when there is a fire? Overhead cables burn, and the crucial communication system set up to enable coordination during national emergencies collapses.
Costa told Expresso that he wants to force PT to improve its network, particularly in areas vulnerable to forest fires.
But right now there is nothing to be done beyond fighting these monster blazes that are being covered too by an international media looking beyond the instant tragedy and highlighting “political inaction, a history of poor land management and the prioritizing of firefighting over fire prevention” (New York Times).
With a total of 268 active fires registered on Saturday, newspapers have explained how 73 fires started in a matter of just three hours (between 3pm and 6pm).
This morning the situation remains “extremely difficult”, admits Urbano de Sousa.
Tabloid CM has highlighted the case of a wedding reception that had to be abandoned as flames bore down on the property in which it was being held, finally “consuming everything”.
What should have been the newlyweds’ ‘happiest day’ was thus irreparably blighted, but there were no casualties, which puts the incident into perspective.
Elsewhere, the woman who suffered up to 50% burns to her body as she helped firefighters tackle a blaze in Castelo de Bode has been transferred to a specialist unit in Coimbra.
The injured firefighters have been identified as four women and one man.
They suffered their burns during “dampening down” operations and last night were being treated in hospital in Abrantes.
With focus so much on firefighting, little has been said about the cause of Saturday’s blazes, though the inference as always is that they were started deliberately.
Though free of any serious outbreaks so far, the Algarve is on orange alert, with its firewatch website for expats announcing today: “There are so many large fires nationally, that it is impossible to post every one so we have decided we will post a screenshot of the country 3 times a day. morning, noon, and night Hope this helps”.
To refer to this screenshot, access Alerta de Incéndio Forestal/ Forest Fire Alert’s Facebook page.
Hour-by-hour updates are also trackable via fogos.pt
Image: taken from Correio da Manhã this morning, showing the situation as of 8pm last night