Killer wildfire “hours from being declared extinct”

After seven unbelievable days, the hideous wildfire that started with catastrophic consequences in Pedrógão Grande is close to being declared “extinct”.

Fronts that have been raging in the boroughs of Góis and Pedrógão Grande are already dubbed ‘extinct’, and others are “just a few steps away” reports CMTV this morning.

Aside from the crushing death-toll – horror stories of which still fill the nation’s papers – over 200 people at last count have been registered as injured, as many as 50,000 hectares devastated, scores of homes destroyed and many businesses completely wiped out.

The rebuilding process – thanks to huge funding promised by the European Union – will take many months, in which time no one is taking bets on which particular “heads will roll”.

With chaotic organisation, appalling ‘land management’ high on the list of criticisms, the government and Public Ministry probes into various aspects that went wrong promise to lead the way towards new legislation which President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wants to see formulated before the summer recess.

Meantime, “the situation on the ground” remains “problematic”.

Confidence tricksters and thieves have been taking advantage of the confusion to the point that residents are now not only on the alert, but highly suspicious.

CMTV reports that one householder did not even believe they were reporters. Maria Amélia had returned to her burnt out home in Balsa, Castanheira de Pêra to find thieves had arrived before her and “taken everything”.

The devastated woman eventually told CMTV that she had run from the house in panic on Saturday as flames approached, “leaving the doors open, and everything behind: jewellery and gold that she had collected over a lifetime.

It has all gone, she told the cameras.

Elsewhere, another household described “a man and a woman” going round the house at 5am on Tuesday morning. The luck was that the house was full of people who had been made homeless in the fires and were camping with the owners.

On the wider scale, Spanish newspaper El Mundo has highlighted the chaotic nature of authorities’ response to this tragedy, suggesting it could “signal the end of (prime minister) António Costa’s career”.

“The evident lack of coordination between authorities in both firefighting and communications, provoked a wave of criticism for disastrous management by António Costa’s government, and particularly by the Minister of Internal Administration Constança Urbano de Sousa”, said the paper – citing the “lack of coordination” that became so evident last Tuesday when Civil Protection promised everything would be under control within 24 hours, but when what in fact happened was a mad scramble to evacuate almost 30 villages as raging flames continued to advance.

El Mundo was also mystified by Portugal’s reasons for turning back 60 Spanish firefighters equipped with 30,000 tons of water, who tried to enter the country from Galiza to lend a hand.

Urbano de Sousa cited “an excess of voluntary spirit”, saying Portugal was unwilling to work with firefighters who did not know the terrain – glossing over the fact that hundreds were being drafted in from other districts of the country, who also did not know the local terrain.

The Spanish paper even found time to criticise the government’s ‘handling’ of the false report of a crash by one of the Canadair firefighting planes, saying it took two hours for the authorities to make a statement.

All in all, this last week has done nothing for ‘national pride’ in authorities who are meant to be protecting us.

To make things even worse, a source for INEM has revealed that the emergency medical service is “close to collapse” because of all the work operatives have been doing due to the fires.

In Lisbon recently it took an hour “to find an available ambulance”, the source told Correio da Manhã, while the paper has also added that it took emergency services 10 hours to get one of the injured firemen to a hospital burns unit.

On a national level, the recent high temperatures are due to dip slightly for the next few days, while IPMA is also busily compiling its report on the factors that contributed to this tragedy.

IPMA’s initial explanation of “dry thunderstorms” has been embellished now by the term “downburst” – which Público has described as “a descending mass of air that hits the ground and spreads in a radial form, causing strong winds. Once it has hit the ground, this discharge of air disperses in every direction. It is a like a tornado, but it isn’t…”

[email protected]