FIRES that are suspected to have been started deliberately caused panic yesterday in the hills of Silves, where some homes were put at risk in the early afternoon, in the area of Bastos, obliging residents to be evacuated by the GNR.
The mountains of Cabecinha Branca, St. Clemens and Foz de Águas Belas were all completely surrounded by flames. In Foz de Águas and Belas, properties were saved due to the use of a machine that quickly cleared the land around the houses. In this area, the firemen were fighting flames that had already spread into the land of several properties. Elderly residents were evacuated while others stayed to help stop the spread of the flames.
It has been reported that the flames appeared at around 10.45am on Wednesday in three separate locations, separated only by a few hundred metres. A man was seen on a moped in the area where the blaze started and is suspected of lighting the fires. Another man (or the same), also on a moped, was seen close to another point where a fire broke out in the Enxerim area of Silves. The authorities are currently searching for these suspects.
“I saw two of the fires break out in the area of Carapinhas, 500 metres apart from each other, in just five minutes”, says one witness that has no doubts about the criminality behind the incidents. This opinion is also shared by the President of Silves Câmara, Isabel Soares, for whom “this is the only explanation for the simultaneous break out of various fires”.
The wind and poor access were the main obstacles for the fire-fighters. The blaze broke out in small bushes in Carapinhas (an area that also burned in last year’s fires) and progressed in the direction of the interior of the borough, to a heavily forested valley. At 2.30pm, the flames were true ‘walls of fire’, heading in the direction of the houses of Bastos. .
Sparks transported by the wind then caused new fires to spring up on the hill near Bastos and the blaze gained new impetus. At the end of the afternoon, the flames attacked an inaccessible area where they burned freely, encouraged by blustery wind.The spread of flames was then halted indirectly by machines digging soil to create corta-fogos (fire-stops).
Since the beginning of the afternoon, the authorities registered eight new fires in the south of the country, a situation considered to be suspicious.
The fires in the Serra de Silves yesterday were fought by around 130 firefighters and three dozen fire engines from the brigades of Lagos, Vila Real de Santo António, Faro, Silves, Portimão, Olhão, Monchique, S. Bartolomeu de Messines, Albufeira and Lagoa, as well as a group of reinforcements from Setúbal who have been placed in the region since Monday. The men were also aided by a helicopter equipped with a water bucket – the only one available yesterday in Portugal due to the new order of planes being delayed. The flames were fought all day and four machines worked at clearing land and creating fire-stops.
According to the authorities the blaze in Silves has now been extinguished but the zone is still being closely monitored by fire-fighters to prevent re-ignition of the flames in any areas.
Fire-fighting planes on the way
It has been reported that on the 20th of this month, Monchique will receive a further fire fighting plane that should be fully operational from the following day and on July 1, another will be delivered for the Sotavento to be stationed in Cachopo, Tavira.
Fires in Castelo Branco and Lagoa.
The Bombeiros of Castelo Branco, in the centre of inland Portugal near Serra da Estrela also registered seven small fires yesterday which were put out by local brigades without the need for reinforcements. A small fire was also reported in Lagoa, Algarve.