It has been another dreadful night for people in and around Monchique as this monster blaze, now approaching its fifth day, resists all attempts to put it out.
Changes in the wind have seen hot spots reignite all over the mountain.
Evacuations have been taking place through the early hours but there is no ‘central source’ for information until later this morning.
Expat group Associação de Alerta do Incéndio Florestal has been updating members through the darkness hours, as has the CMTV 24-hour news station.
For now all we can report for sure is that the fire encircled the town once again. Power lines are down. Roads are closed. Flames are still threatening the neighbouring boroughs of Silves and Portimão. Smoke is seriously affecting many areas, and Monchique mayor Rui André has said he is expecting fatalities as a number of homeowners ‘hid’ from authorities that came to evacuate them, determined to stay behind to try and protect their properties.
There are as yet no figures for the number of houses damaged by fire, if not destroyed.
But what is coming through are victim accounts of being left totally alone when the fire arrived.
In Alto do Baixo yesterday, for example, rural tourism business Spa d’Alma Algarve posted online: “When the fire attacked us like a massive wall of smoke and flames, there was not 1 firefighter, not 1 fire truck or helicopter, Proteção Civil was not there and everything was confused. Never saw such a display of lack of coordination and communication. Looks like nothing was learned from the devastating fire last year around Pedrogão Grande. Also hope that the illegal plantation of eucalyptus is going to be considered a crime that is to be punished with prison”.
As so many have complained already this summer, the government-enforced cull of garden trees has done nothing in terms of making the country any safer: the danger lies in eucalyptus forests and plantations that have been allowed to proliferate right up to urban borders.
Until an official statement later today we can only report that falling temperatures are expected to help firefighting finally ‘turn the corner’ today. But as things stand at 6am, the fire is still visible for kms in every direction.
Fóia, Caldas de Monchique, the road and communities on the way down to Portimão and land around the dam of Odelouca have all been affected.
A CMTV ‘chat show’ ongoing now has stressed that the Ministry for Internal Administration has got a lot to answer for “as something has failed here” though no-one for a minute would criticise the efforts of firefighters on the ground who have been stretched to their limits for days.
140 GIVEN SHELTER IN PORTIMÂO ARENA
While hundreds of holidaymakers from two hotels – one being the luxury Macdonald Monchique Resort & Spa – have been evacuated to tourist accommodation on the coast, 140 locals are being put up – with their pets – in Portimão Arena.
Speaking to journalists this afternoon, mayoress Isilda Gomes said the council is in this for the long haul. People will be taken care of until it is safe for them to return home. Almost certainly that will mean another night in the arena.
The council is also coordinating with local hotels for “all the operatives fighting this fire to receive two meals a day”, as well as those who have been evacuated.
It’s a huge logistical effort, but one being done with heart: for example, people who slept last night on makeshift beds were able to do so with their dogs beside them – “and there was not a sound”, said Gomes.
Photo: a screenshot of the current situation taken from EFFIS (European Forest Fire Situation)