DOZENS OF forest fires have swept the country since last weekend, prompting the worst destruction since last summer and causing burns and injuries to four bombeiros and the death of one civilian.
In the north of the country, motorists were forced to abandon their journeys along the A1, between Leiria and Santarém and the A23, owing to the large fires that destroyed houses and killed animals.
Fires also broke out in Braga, Viseu and Évora. A spokesman from the Bombeiros told The Resident that 19 major fires had broken out on one day alone, the most serious being in Cristo Rei, Tarouca and Sabugal. Meanwhile, in Braga and Viana do Castelo, bombeiros battled against more than 50 smaller fires.
One of the biggest fires in the country was in Barranco Silvestre in Monchique. It broke out at 9.30am last Sunday and spread quickly, destroying two houses. By the end of the afternoon, more houses had been reached, including stables and haylofts, resulting in the death of livestock and the destruction of six homes. People who lived in the area were left without telephones and electricity. The fire led various people, including the elderly and bedridden, to leave their houses and seek shelter. But some chose to defy the flames and remained in order to guard their possessions. A pensioner of 70 was alone in the house when the fire reached him. The bombeiros later found him suffocated by smoke.
The President of Monchique Câmara, Carlos Tuta, confirmed that he did not have any doubt that the origin of the fire was by “criminal hand”, saying: “They have been trying to set fires going for several nights in a row. It’s lamentable.” But Tuta also criticised the lack of aerial support in the area (one Canadian aircraft and two helicopters) which, he claims, left the area prematurely to head to other fire-afflicted areas at the beginning of Monday afternoon, while the fire was still raging. “It had been established that they would remain until the fire was completely extinguished, but this did not happen,” Tuta told journalists.
By Tuesday, yet another fire had broke out near the Algarve University in Faro, at the Gambelas campus, forcing pupils and teachers to join the attempt to quell the fire. The fire threatened local houses, killed two horses and caused widespread power cuts in the eastern Algarve. Overnight fires in Castro Marim and Alcoutim and new flare-ups in Loulé and Silves prompted fresh concerns.
After the disasters of last summer, in which 400,000 hectares of land were destroyed by forest fires, the then Prime Minister Durão Barroso promised 40 million euros in state aid for various fire protection schemes. He also created a new position, a Secretary of State for Forestry. But in spite of these measures, the fires still burn.