José Vitorino, President of Faro Câmara, has expressed solidarity with the region’s fire victims and claimed that “regional autonomy” for the Algarve would have prevented the catastrophe.
The câmara leader has also requested “exceptional support” for those affected by the fires. “Given the scale of the disaster, a far-reaching rescue programme must be defined. This should involve reforestation, a review of infrastructures and an array of additional measures – embracing social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions,” he said.
Vitorino pointed out that hundreds of hectares of forest have been destroyed, together with a vast section of the “best cork in the world”, as well as fauna, flora, cattle, medronho orchards, beehives and innumerable personal possessions. He said he believed the area had been dealt a “mortal blow” by the fires. Apart from lamenting the recent fires, Vitorino berated central government for not ceding “regional autonomy” to the Algarve, a measure that he claimed “would have permitted the most deprived areas to be heard and given adequate help”.
Although concerned with events in his own concelho, Vitorino said he had also been “horrified” by the disastrous fires in Monchique, Loulé, São Brás, Tavira, Castro Marim, Alcoutim and Silves. Vitorino says the region as a whole is consistently ignored: “The Algarve is a small region, reduced more and more to the status of a narrow coastal backwater”. He cited the fires as “yet another brutal reminder of this reality” and said “the task of bringing the problems of the interior and the Serra to the attention of the authorities and the population at large has been an ongoing struggle for decades”. He reaffirmed his demand for the fulfilment of “a specific integrated plan for these areas”.
Environmental association Almargem also mourned the massive toll on the region’s forests and claimed that arsonists were to blame for the fires. But it also attacked the authorities for their neglect: “We don’t understand how it is possible, after last year’s catastrophe, that new forms of fire vigilance, prevention, security and rapid intervention were not introduced to avoid the 2,000 hectares of forest being engulfed by fire.”
Almargem also points out another lapse: “The complete absence of firemen, in many areas and on many occasions, was incomprehensible. It is unacceptable that more means were not mobilised, not only to combat the fire, but also to protect the population.” The association also says that the heat and other characteristics of the Portuguese climate should serve “as the basis for all forestry plans and all national and regional fire prevention strategies”. The group aims to pressurise the authorities to ensure that forest producers and ecological organisations form part of the decision-making process. It also wants to launch a campaign to educate the general population about environmental issues, including a plan to encourage extra vigilance during the fire season.