UPDATES ON THIS FIRE CAN BE FOUND HERE:
A massive fire stretching 25 km has been raging through the night between the central Portuguese boroughs of Vila de Rei and Mação – and is still going, despite another day of combat.
At least 20 people so far have been injured, one seriously – a civilian apparently suffering 1st and 2nd degree burns. (The civilian has been airlifted to hospital in Lisbon, while the other injured – all Civil Protection personnel – are understood to have received more local treatment.)
Early this morning the situation was still “far from under control”, stressed reports.
Strong winds were fanning flames, increasing difficulties.
Civil Protection sources explained that due to the fact that “various fires started within the same geographical region almost simultaneously” on Saturday afternoon, they began “interacting between themselves”, making combat all the more difficult.
On Saturday night the word coming out of Vila de Rei – where the first blaze flared-up – was that this particular area of fire was ‘uncontrollable’.
Air Force machinery and personnel were drafted in on Sunday, and information by 9.30 am was becoming more positive, though this changed over the course of the day.
Over 1000 firefighters have been on the ground backed by as many as 386 appliances and 14 planes and helicopters.
Luís Belo Costa, the Civil Protection commander overseeing operations told a press conference early Sunday morning: “We are committed to redefining an intense strategy to resolve this fire as quickly as possible”.
At the time no homes appeared to be ‘at risk. Inhabitants of numerous villages had had to battle through the night nonetheless to keep their properties safe – and as the day progressed flames consumed at least two properties and were on Sunday evening bearing down on at least one village.
Said a homeowner early on Sunday morning: “It’s the same old story” – the massive national effort to clean the country’s scrubland after the killer fires of 2017 appears to have had little practical effect.
Television reporters on the scene during the morning talked to homeowners who said that if it wasn’t for their own efforts to protect property, “everything would have burned”.
“Disgust. Disgust is what I feel”, said one, who claimed to have ‘lost everything’, without seeing “one plane in the sky”.
Planes however have been working solidly, as have all the boots on the ground.
It’s a huge area, almost 10,000 hectares described as “destroyed” before lunchtime on Sunday.
Meantime, the minister of interior administration Eduardo Cabrita addressed the country shortly after 11am, saying that the government has “total confidence in the operational structure” in place, and is hoping news coming later will show the various areas of fire are on the way to being fully dominated.
The trouble with combat-efforts was the steadily increasing heat of the day, and the wind.
As to the causes of the fires which straddle two districts, they were almost certainly ‘manmade’, in that they started within 20 minutes of each other, in what appears to be a straight line.
Minister Cabrita confirmed that police and judicial authorities are investigating, while TV reports have highlighted the discovery of what appears to be charred homemade explosive devices.
UPDATE: Doing the rounds of social media this morning was the photograph of a plastic bag containing a small bottle of water and a ‘mini-sandwich’. This was all that has been given to firefighters who have been battling flames for hours, says the message. It’s impossible to verify whether or not this post is ‘valid’, or another incidence of ‘fake news’. The hand holding the small bag appears to be that of a firefighter’s in uniform, under a road sign to Vila de Rei, the heart of today’s dramas.