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Fires continue to rage as forecast for next few days “is terrifying”

For the sixth day running, mainland Portugal remains in the grip of wildfires, some of which have been burning since the weekend.

With skies now heavy with ‘stains’ of smoke, the worst situations remain in the north and centre – Arouca, Aveiro, Anadia being three of the most critical areas – but many others too are encircled by flames which news reporters keep describing as “out of control”.

Villages have been evacuated, roads and railway lines cordoned off, and houses destroyed, writes the nation’s best read tabloid – while in Madeira the damage so far is being estimated in well over €55 million.

The worst of this drama is that much as politicians might like to try talking about “a second phase in which we start rebuilding”, the first phase is still raging, seeing new fires flare up almost every hour.

Secretary of state for internal administration Jorge Gomes says in the papers today that “the wildfire industry brings a lot of money to a lot of people”, adding that meteorological conditions are lining up to add to the agony.

“The weather forecast for the next few days is terrifying,” he told Correio da Manhã – a relentless continuation of blistering temperatures fanned by strong winds.

Friday sees television stations continue to follow the worst of the horror up and down the country to the exclusion of practically everything else.

Meantime, prime minister António Costa has been to Madeira where fires have finally been brought under control to see close up something of the Dantesque level of devastation on an island that relies on year-round tourism.

Alluding to criticism by minister of the environment Constança Urbano de Sousa that the EU has not provided the level of help Portugal needs, Costa said the EU “has to have a notion” of what the country is going through, although he appreciates that many other southern countries are suffering similar wildfires – France particularly – which make sharing resources even more complicated.

Today is a time for data to start coming through: four deaths in Madeira, two on mainland Portugal, 260 homeless (Madeira), 300 treated in hospital (Madeira), 90,705 hectares burnt (mainland Portugal. This has already far surpassed recent totals since 2008 where the average up to August 12 has been 25,327 hectares), 34 suspected arsonists arrested, the majority of which CM explains have been released on bail.

In the north of the country, hundreds of people have been admitted to hospital with respiratory problems (an average of 370 per day, writes CM) due to “intense smoke” that has been assailing various areas.

In Arouca – the area most ravaged by wildfires – the regional health authority has reinforced the number of doctors and nurses on duty in casualty units.

But the truth is that until the fires stop, the extent of damage and the level of support that Portugal may need to recover, is impossible to quantify.

The commission for Vinho Verde winemaking, for instance, is aware that many of its producers have been affected, and is trying to assure people that it has an insurance fund that should cover damages suffered by any of its 15,000 members.

Adding to difficulties is the sudden high level of deaths due to the heat. CM explains that just between August 8 and 10 (in other words, over three days) 921 deaths were registered “associated with the heat”.

Russia and Morocco answer Portugal’s cries for help.

TVI24 reports that reinforcement has not just come from Europe but from Russia and Morocco as well.

Morocco has already dispatched two sturdy Canadair planes, which have joined reinforcements from Italy and Spain.

For now it is unknown what kind of help is coming from Russia, or when it will arrive, but President Marcelo is understood to have said Britain too has “shown interest” in giving support.

The Resident will be bringing significant updates as and when they come through.

UPDATE:

Russia will be sending two heavy multi-purpose amphibious Beriev aircraft in the early hours of tomorrow (Saturday) morning, a source for the ministry of internal administration has told Lusa news agency. The planes are expected to arrive around 5am tomorrow, and will be based at Leiria’s Monte Real airbase. The beauty of these planes is that they can carry 12,000 litres of water at any one time, and if required to rescue people, can airlift up to 72 passengers.

Meanwhile the national outlook is still grim, with new information being posted on the internet page of the Autoridade Nacional de Protecção Civil.
As of Friday lunchtime, the picture saw “four active fires in Aveiro” (the borough housing Arouca and Anadia), two in Vila Real and one in Viana do Castelo.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com