Fires in central region: houses destroyed, at least 30 injured, “very difficult day ahead”

Fires in central region: houses destroyed, at least 30 injured, “very difficult day ahead”

UPDATES, UPDATES…

TUESDAY: Lunchtime update: very good news. None of the fronts are ‘active’ now. Civil Protection is saying the fire “at this time” is dominated. That doesn’t mean that the situation is over in any way, as everything hinges on how things go during the course of the afternoon: reignitions being the chief concern.

Not so good news is an update on incendiary devices that have started being used. Coimbra police have discovered devices that appear to be ‘activate by cellphone’.

They are not the devices used in the massive Vila de Rei fire that began on Saturday, stresses TVI24. But they show how economic interests behind attacks are developing.

What economic interests could be behind this particular fire around Vila de Rei, no one seems to know. But rumours centre on companies that might want the way clear to pitch for mining licences (lithium).

Back to developments, this morning as the fires approached day four, over 1000 men were still in place, backed by over 300 appliances and two planes. But the overall situation was looking much more positive. Early reports suggested 90% of the fires had been ‘dominated’.

Water bombing by four ‘Canadair’ heavy duty planes took place throughout yesterday afternoon, though this morning on the official ‘prociv’ (Civil Protection) information site, the fire was still classified as “em curso” (ongoing).

Newspaper reports say there have now been 39 people injured, 16 of which have had to be taken to hospital.

Today’s tactics will be focused on using heavy machinery to create ‘fire breaks’ as well as continuing localised combat.

One ‘miracle’ late last night was a storm that brought welcome rain.

If the wind doesn’t whip up too rapidly today, this fire could be brought to a close within the next 12-24 hours.

MONDAY (Day Three)
Spain has sent two planes to help the Portuguese effort which is now facing its third night of combat, as elsewhere three Kamov heavy-duty helicopters have finally been brought back into the field.

With the EU stressing earlier this morning that it is ready to help Portugal if the government asks, the anger has started.

Phone-ins on daytime TV talk shows have been full of critics saying response has been haphazard and lacking – and the deputy mayor of Vila de Rei (Castelo Branco) went public with accusations that “yet again the State has failed”.

This is a crucial election year for PS Socialists who are unlikely to get a majority without the continued backing of radical left-wing parties.

This kind of criticism is not going to help the PS election campaign. But those facing the flames in Castelo Branco couldn’t care less about the government’s re-election prospects. They are “fed up with the authorities failing populations”, says Paulo César, vice-president of the Câmara of Vila de Rei.

Talking to Lusa, César said the State has failed in fire prevention – despite the second year of a campaign to clean up national territory – and it fails every year in dealing with blazes “caused by criminals”.

Despite authorities trying to say otherwise, it now appears clear that some primary residences (this means homes people live in) have been lost, and flames continue to bear down on at least three villages, Chaveira, Chaverinha and Casais de S. Bento being the most at risk this (Monday) afternoon.

The borough of Proença-a-Nova is the next ‘in line’, meaning the fire will have encroached on yet another municipality within the district of Castelo Branco.

As television stations remain focused on this tragedy, heavy-hitting papers like Público are asking: “Didn’t we learn anything from the fires of 2017? (which killed over 100 people, destroyed endless thousands of hectares of land, businesses, lives, etc.)

“Specialists” have told the paper that “measures truly needed have yet to be applied”.

What has to happen is for forestland to be “transformed” into some form of ‘profit-making’, however and in whatever way possible.

In the meantime, the Castelo Branco drama continues, with winds whipping up hotspots and sending firefighters this way and that.

Four waterbomber planes are working flat out, and will continue to do so through the afternoon.

One aspect that HAS improved since 2017, say commentators today, is that politicians have learnt to stay away from the action, and leave firefighters and Civil Protection to get on with the job in hand, and not have to keep ‘breaking’ from coordination efforts to host briefings in front of ministers.

ORIGINAL TEXT, MONDAY MORNING:

Fires that have been raging in the centre of Portugal are by no means over.

With various houses already affected and at least 30 people reported as injured, fire chiefs admit Monday “is going to be very difficult”.

The bulk of the ‘fronts’ in the municipalities of Vila de Rei and Mação are “90% dominated”, but one remains posing ongoing problems and the forecast of winds of up to 35 km/ hour later today will make combat even more difficult.

These fires began mid-afternoon on Saturday.

Over 1000 firefighters are on the ground, backed by hundreds of appliances and ‘muscled air power’ – varying all the time, but has been as many as 13.

There seems no doubt that the origin of these blazes was ‘criminal’. Arson, in other words – the habitual reason behind these agonising stories of heartbreak and working lives devastated.

Laments coming out of the drama over the weekend centred on local feeling that “what didn’t burn in the fires of 2017 is burning now”.

It’s a tragedy, and more searingly hot weather is said to be on the way.

The Resident will be updating information on this desperate battle through the day and until the fires are at the so-called ‘conclusion phase’.

Geographically, the areas worst affected are the parishes of Cardigos (which has as many as 23 ‘villages’) in Mação, Vila de Rei and Sertã.

A map of how the fires broke out show they began within minutes of each other in a direct line, running from Fundada, in Vila de Rei, through Rolã in Sertã, on to Catadinha, into Azinheira (Oleiros) and stopping in Mosteiro. The first fire was called in at 2.50pm, with the fifth marked at starting at 4.16pm.

As our previous story (click here) explained over the weekend, Air Force troops have been called in to help and have been responsible for the setting up a campaign ‘kitchen’, as well as providing desperately needed airpower.

Updates to come through the day.

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Photo: Facebook/Força Especial de Proteção Civil