By Sophie McCarrick [email protected]
Seven stores at the Retail Park in Portimão have been razed to the ground, as the result of a fire that broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning (September 23).
Sports retailer Decathlon, general store De Borla, DIY store Aki, office supplies and stationery shop Staples, supermaket Continente, electronic suppliers Rádio Popular and furniture store Moviflor were completely destroyed in the fire.
Only the food court building, a car repairs store and the fuel station, located in adjacent buildings, were spared from the fire.
The blaze was fought by more than 150 firemen aided by 64 vehicles, who managed to bring the fire under control three-and-a-half-hours after it began.
Due to highly flammable products inside the stores that led to multiple, violent explosions, compounded with other slow-burning materials, the fire was only confirmed as being thoroughly extinguished on Tuesday (September 25) at 7.35am.
Firefighters remained on site for several hours of surveillance, confirmed Abel Gomes, the district commander for Civil Protection.
Once the safety conditions had been met, technicians were permitted to enter the fire ravaged stores and start the complicated procedure of determining the cause of the fire.
Jobs at risk
Portimão Mayor Manuel da Luz expressed his concerns about the future for more than 300 workers, at a time when unemployment levels in the Algarve represent the highest in the country.
“I hope employers are able to find a solution for these workers as the Algarve, and particularly Portimão, is seriously affected by a high unemployment level,” he said.
In a statement to the press, Carlos Maia, CEO of Staples Portugal, said: “Our concern right now is to make sure that the 25 employees from the Portimão store do not suffer because of the incident. We are doing everything possible to ensure that things gets back to normal as quickly as possible.”
He also confirmed that all employees from the Portimão Staples store will be relocated to the Faro Staples outlet for the time being, until the company’s objective of reopening another store in the area (to replace the one destroyed in the fire) is fulfilled.
Radio Popular has also ensured employment for their staff by transferring them to other branches in Albufeira and Faro. Portimão’s Continente supermarket employed the greatest number of staff out of the seven stores affected. Its 120 workers have been transferred to other Continente outlets in the Algarve.
A spokesman for car repairs store Feu Vert, which was not affected by the fire, has confirmed that the jobs of its 19 employees are secured. The store remains closed until safety conditions for customers are created.
Whilst the future for the employees of these national brands seems set, the same cannot be said for many other Retail Park store workers, with many still waiting to learn their fate when the Algarve Resident went to press.
Fundbox, the investment fund management company which owns the Retail Park, said that the total cost of the damage has not yet been estimated. According to a press statement, Rui Alpalhão, CEO of the company, stated that the situation is currently being assessed by insurers.
Portimão Mayor believes it will take more than 18 months to rebuild the retail park to its previous, fully functioning state; if indeed it is financially possible.
Portimão city centre: new retail park location?
Algarve retailers association ACRAL and the Portimão Business Association ACP met earlier this week to discuss the essential steps that should be taken, in order to minimise any negative impact from the fire and to ensure the security of jobs of those from the seven affected stores.
The two associations feel that Portimão Câmara should wholly encourage the companies affected to re-open their stores, permanently or temporarily, in the city centre.
It has been well documented and reported that the city of Portimão has been suffering from a downturn in business for several years. By relocating businesses into the centre, more visitors and consumers should be attracted to the ailing city.
According to the Câmara, all stores destroyed by the fire have expressed a willingness to continue operating in Portimão. However, they are unable to determine their future as they do not yet know what alternative venues are available that could accommodate them, allowing them to carry out their normal day-to-day business activities.
“Decathlon are even considering erecting a temporary structure in the car park of the retail park, however, they will need permission from the park’s administration to do so,” said the Câmara spokesperson.