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Investigations underway as Monchique blaze finally dominated

With just under 400 men still on the ground, backed by a battalion of fire-fighting vehicles and still one means of air support in the sky, Monchique’s massive blaze that raged for almost a week on three fronts has been finally declared “dominated”.

This resolution phase is critical.

Firemen and women have to walk and watch over the 4300 charged hectares of land to try and ensure no areas reignite (as may have happened when the fire roared back into life just half an hour after the all-clear was given last Wednesday).

But as local populations start to breathe again, the work for police is just getting started.

According to reports – and despite the fact that the Quinta do Lago barman who has admitted to starting the blaze is in preventive custody – investigations are honing in on what police believe were at least three instances of arson across the Algarve that plunged communities into states of sheer panic.

“The first was in São Bartolomeu de Messines”, writes Correio da Manhã. “Then Monchique, and then most recently, Silves”.

Investigators are apparently “cross-referencing data” to try and discover who could have been behind these incidents.

They are also probing the “strange reignition” of the Monchique fire, half an hour after the last fire truck left the mountain following the first ‘all-clear’ on Wednesday.

Meantime, a much-relieved Portimão council has issued a press release news that the blazes have finally been dominated, and praising the “exceptional work of all Civil Protection agents and the many entities that worked together in combat and support operations”.

Faro’s fire commander Vaz Pinto was given special mention for his “determining action” in coordinating and mobilising all necessary means for a fight that was “so iniquitous” – and locals too were congratulated for their instant and impressive “wave of solidarity” that saw supplies pouring into local fire stations and at drop-off points “without any appeal from either the firemen’s association or the municipality”.

This far, it has been a terrible summer for a country that is habitually dogged by wildfires during the hot summer months, but which this year seems to have been doubly hammered.

With controversy in the wings over a so-called fire-cartel that has allegedly made millions out of Portugal’s wildfire ‘industr’ (click here) – the general who resigned from his position as head of the ANPC civil protection authority earlier this week has apparently “rejected” the prospect of being investigation by the department that highlighted his failure to look after the interests of the State.

IGAI, the general inspectorate of the ministry of internal administration, has delivered a damning report on the €48 million ‘deal’ which the ANPC forged with Everjets over six heavy-duty Kamov helicopters, explaining that the authority run by General Francisco Grave Pereira did not take into consideration the condition of the ageing Russian craft.

As a result, “almost the entire fleet stopped working”, writes Correio da Manhã.

In 2014, only one helicopter out of six was operational, and even today, only three take part in fire-fighting ops.

Spain’s El Mundo newspaper has been concentrating on the so-called fire-cartel which it claims has been ‘paying bribes to politicians and officials since 1999 to guarantee contracts at inflated prices”.

The tentacular web of corruption extends throughout Spain, Italy, France and Portugal, says the paper, stressing that operations in Portugal involved “a coordinator of influences” – someone who could guarantee that the highest prices possible were paid for fire-fighting plane cover.

To date, there has been no indication of who that coordinator of influences might be.

IGAI’s report however also cites former ANPC director Col. João Teixeira who CM reports “left the authority in March to return to service with the GNR”.

PHOTO: dramatic photo by Bimering highlights the extent of fire damage south of Monchique.

SINCE THIS PHOTO WAS TAKEN various areas have once again reignited. Today (Sunday), there were reports of an area near the autodrome and a location west of Casais, but both incidents were dispatched quickly. There are still over 160 firemen ‘on the ground’, backed by 78 land-based vehicles and one means of air support. It is unclear how long firemen will remain in the area, but while the situation is this potentially volatile, they cannot be pulled out.