Inquiry opens into firefighters’ “empty sandwich” scandal

A government inquiry has been launched into claims that exhausted firefighters were served ‘empty sandwiches’ and nutritionless meals during the height of this month’s devastating forest fires.

The scandal has been growing throughout the week, with numerous reports of truly miserable offerings to men and women physically drained of all energy.

Tinned frankfurters with bland spaghetti, rice with beans and ‘cornmeal’ are just some of the ‘delicacies’ offered up as sustenance in the field.

Says tabloid Correio da Manhã, even then portions were small, the food was cold – and yes, the overall picture was abysmal.

Last night, the ministry of internal administration (MAI) sent out a press release confirming the existence of a “number of complaints” that will now be investigated, with the final report due by the end of September.

The release confirms that the country’s Civil Protection authority “financially supports the meals of operatives in the field” to the tune of just over €21 per firefighter per day, though it is the responsibility of fire stations and municipalities to actually produce the meals.

Suggesting a “logistical failure” lies behind the ‘empty sandwich scandal’, CM nonetheless alludes to provisionary kitchens being set up alongside municipal garage premises where vehicles were undergoing repair.

Whatever the situation, ‘counter claims’ have been coming in with government staff attesting to having eaten “perfectly good food” alongside firefighters in the field of operations.

Civil Protection’s operational commander Rui Esteves has even been quoted as saying the “constant appeals for people to offer food and water” to firefighters “make no sense” as “rules are clearly defined” over what should be supplied, and only need to be “acted upon by the responsible entities”.

It is that last part of Esteves’ remarks that MAI will now be investigating closely.

Meantime, today the national situation is calm, with no significant incidents in any part of the country though the Eastern Algarve remains on heightened fire-risk alert.

As August comes to a close, the borough of Mação is reported to have seen 75% of its territory blackened by flames that raged for weeks.

The total area involved has been estimated as 27,500 hectares, while the global picture for Portugal since the beginning of the year involves 188,000 hectares burnt in many hundreds of blazes.

Newspapers have stressed that during August at least, more than a third of the fires on national territory started at night – meaning arson was almost certainly the cause.

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