Firefighters who battled for 22-hours to contain a forest fire in Verdelhos, Covilhã, have described their “disgust” after local people accused them of incompetence because a garage and two cars were lost in the conflagration.
“We rushed to call the firemen when the fire was already some way off,” a 60-year-old woman told reporters. “But they took so long to get here that when they arrived, there was very little they could do.”
The firemen have a different story, which one of them has posted on the service’s web page: vidadebombeiro.pt.
David Barata explained how they had been battling an “uncontrollable fire” which had seen firefighters “surrounded various times”, risking their lives to save houses and farm properties – some of which were left to such a degree of abandon that they had weeds and scrub “up to their roofs”.
“No one said a thing about how they hadn’t cleaned the area,” Barata explained. “For the first time I felt like handing in my uniform. I felt a huge lack of respect for the way we had risked our lives in that area. It is sad to see so much ingratitude,” he added, saying locals had actually said if the firemen were tired, they “shouldn’t have left home”.
Sertã fire chief Pedro Correia has backed Barata up, saying “never in my life have I seen such ingratitude”.
Firefighters’ work was made doubly difficult by the fact that countryfolk had done nothing to keep their properties “cleaned” of brush and undergrowth that fuels forest fires, he stressed.
A law bringing in stiff fines for property owners who left their land to abandon was brought in in 2003, but Público carried an article explaining how difficult it would be to enforce.
In the meantime, firefighters risk their lives on an almost daily basis throughout the summer, with limited resources.
In this Verdelhos blaze, for example, the local station had to send out an appeal for milk and other foods to help keep the 450 firefighters involved fed throughout the hours of combat. In the end, a “vast area” of the Serra da Estrela national park was consumed by flames.
Along with the hundreds of firemen and women from different stations, 170 firefighting vehicles and nine planes and helicopters were involved.