Arriving for this morning's briefing at ANPC headquarters: Image Miguel A Lopes/ Lusa

Marcelo warns ‘peak of wildfire danger starts on Tuesday’

At 3.30pm this afternoon there are 10 fires of ‘large dimension’ raging, involving combat by 2,600 firefighting men and women

President Marcelo has warned today that the extreme danger of wildfires in Portugal will only get worse in the immediate short-term.

Tuesday has been given at the date when risks will start to peak, with the arrival of even stronger winds.

Right now, there are 10 major fires raging in the north and centre. Portugal has triggered the EU Mechanism of Protection, calling for assistance – and has received the help of two Canadair ‘water bomber planes’ from Spain, which are already in active combat.

Coming out of a meeting with the ANPC (national civil protection authority), Marcelo highlighted the message already widely given that every single citizen has to make every possible effort to “avoid negligences” which could lead to fires beginning.

Talk of Portugal’s increasing risk “is not an exaggeration”, he told reporters. There is effective risk today, and that risk will only increase in likelihood into the start of the week.

Of this afternoon’s blazes, the one that began in the borough of Ourém sees 11 planes and helicopters battling the fronts causing most concern, while over 830 firefighters are on the ground with hundreds of appliances.

Fears are that the fire could ‘join up’ with another one further north in Pombal, which in spite of every effort has been ongoing since Friday afternoon. 

Addressing reporters, the president referred to the Situation of Contingency, called yesterday for the coming week – saying it could eventually be extended (beyond next Friday).

The immediate picture is that today and Monday will see the country in a “serious” situation of risk “which could worsen from Tuesday with the entry of another factor in the equation, strong wind”, he said.

Tuesday July 12 may thus be the “most difficult day”: temperatures are expected to increase, already low humidity to drop even further, with strong winds spreading to more districts of the country, “with the small exception of the coast in the north”.

Said Marcelo, “in principle (conditions) could increase drastically on Tuesday, covering the whole territory”.

Expresso adds that the president’s decision to cancel a scheduled trip to the United States – and the prime minister’s similar stance over an official visit planned for the coming week to Mozambique – were taken “because the Portuguese would not understand if the two people in highest charge of the country were away at a time in which fire risks are very elevated”.

WHAT IS A SITUATION OF CONTINGENCY?

With the country moving as of midnight tonight from a Situation of Alert to one of Contingency, what ‘changes’ in terms of rules? The answer for the general public is very little: every prohibition remains in place. The difference affects firefighting response: a Situation of Contingency gives Civil Protection the automatic power to activate up to 100 firefighting reinforcement teams if those in charge deem this necessary. It allows for automatic SMS (text) messages to go out to populations (with advice and instructions), and it opens the way for strengthening the “mechanism and tools of surveillance, with the means of the Armed Forces, namely the Air Force“.

All authorities in civil protection, from the various police forces to forestry sappers, are put on maximum level of readiness in a Situation of Contingency, with all leave cancelled until this “red level” of danger has passed.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com