The critical “Charlie” phase for wildfires in Portugal is weeks away yet five Algarve boroughs were yesterday pegged at “maximum risk”, and temperature spikes are on the way.
According to the official page of the Portuguese institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA), São Brás de Alportel, Tavira, Aljezur, Castro Marim and Alcoutim were at the highest risk of fires, while 20 other boroughs in the districts of Faro, Beja, Santarém, Portalegre, Coimbra and Castelo Branco came in at “very high risk”, reports tabloid Correio da Manhã.
At the same time, the situation for the country’s firefighters is at very least “problematic”.
RTP carried a report last month explaining that ‘volunteer firefighters’ were becoming more and more scarce due to the lack of pay and conditions offered, while earlier this month CM revealed that “many fire stations” were considering boycotts of this year’s DECIF – the special firefighting unit responsible for tackling forest fires.
One fire chief told the paper: “Our men die earning €1.89 an hour. Authorities cannot go on playing with firefighters’ lives”.
Meantime, the (in)famous Kamov firefighting helicopters remain beset with operational issues. Three of the six craft will be out of action through the summer, CM has reported.
Then came a report that the government is to recommend that “around 90 firefighters” – on call as back-up for fire-combat in Viana de Castelo – should use trains and buses to reach their destinations.
The reasoning, SIC television news explained, is to “reduce wear and tear on (firefighting) vehicles and the exhaustion of men on journeys”.
The measure is part of what SIC described as “a strategic new vision of the Minister of Interior Administration (Constança Urbano de Sousa) who also wants to reduce the number of accidents and do away with columns of firefighters circulating on motorways”.
Urbano de Sousa is used to controversy, and this strategic new vision is likely to plunge her firmly back into it.
The president of the Portuguese firefighters league has reacted, says SIC, suggesting the league should be heard “as the law demands” before the measure is formally announced.
Jaime Carlos Marta Soares added that not only was it “lamentable” that his force should have heard of the minister’s strategic new vision from the press, but that dispatching manpower via public transport should be used as a “last resort”.
The wider implications of Portugal’s increased fire risk at a time when the country is due to fill up with visitors on holiday have not (yet) been aired.