Victims of last summer’s forest fires are slowly rebuilding their lives with the help of local câmaras, family and friends. One Monchique resident, in particular, has needed all the help she can get. “On September 12 last year, almost all my house burnt down in the middle of two huge walls of fire,” she remembers. Her family were forced to evacuate their home in the morning and watch it burn to the ground.
The bombeiros could not get there in time to save her house because there are no access roads to where she lives. The aerial service did eventually make it to her house, but by then it was too late. “Luckily, I have wonderful neighbours and friends in my area,” she explains, “so I have somewhere to stay.”
It has been a long arduous process to rebuild all the houses that burned down in the fires and some people’s houses are still not completed. The Monchique resident we spoke to is rebuilding her house with funds from the Red Cross. The Resident’s Nikki Hall spoke with Dra Catarina from Monchique Câmara who explained that, of the 39 houses that are currently being rebuilt, 11 have been finished and work is going well.
Too early to worry?
After the terrible summer of 2003, The Resident wondered how the local câmaras are preparing for this year. In a move to reduce fire risk, all local authorities across the Algarve affected by the fires last year will be clearing countryside and creating fire breaks in April. This should ensure that the bombeiros have access to houses that are tucked away in the mountains. However, when we questioned the President of Monchique Câmara about his plans for combating any forest fires in 2004 he replied: “Is it not a little early to be worrying about that?”
We also spoke with Comandante Abelo from Silves Bombeiros, who commented that, at the moment, all the Silves team were following normal procedure and were prepared for any fires this summer.
Be fire conscious
After his first-hand experience of last summer’s fires, Rolf Osang, who talked to The Resident last week about his ordeal, suggests a few small changes to make, which may help guard against ferocious fires.
1. Start now. Clear the ground near your house and keep it free of brambles, dead leaves and branches.
2. If you have eucalyptus beams, which jut from the side of your house, trim them back to the same level as the walls of your house.
3. In the hot season, keep all your ground as moist as possible.
1. If you see a fire anywhere, report it immediately, or ask the people who built it to put it out.
2. Keep a check on your rubbish; litter – especially glass, tins and paper – is a huge fire hazard.
It is strictly forbidden to light campfires or to burn rubbish during the three month summer period from June until August. If campers want to light a campfire or make a fire for whatever reason, they have to contact either their local câmara or the GNR to request permission. Those caught lighting an unauthorised fire during the summer period will face a fine.
cash is owed
As Portugal braces itself for another hot summer, a disagreement between the National Fire and Civil Protection Service (SNBPC) and Aerocondor, the firm that lent it aerial support during last year’s forest fires has broken out over indemnity payments owed.
Although the exact figure is unknown, the president of the SNBPC, Paiva Monteiro, admitted in a recent interview that it ran into “hundreds of thousands of euros”.
The argument is over the times that the company failed to provide planes to combat the fires. According to pre-hire contracts, if aerial assistance is unavailable, for whatever reason, the firm offering the service is penalised and obliged to pay an indemnity to the SNBPC. This happened several times during last summer’s fires.
But Aerocondor justifies the periods of inoperation by citing the abnormal intensity of last summer’s fires, the worst in living memory. “The authorities accepted that, given the seriousness of the situation, the normal flying limits of the pilots were not respected, so we cannot understand why they don’t accept that the planes’ high usage justified extraordinary repairs,” says Victor Brito, president of Aerocondor’s administrative council. “We had originally forecast 350 flying hours, but in the end more than 520 hours were carried out, “ he added.
In spite of the problem, Brito, who has worked with the SNPBNC since 1989, says that he is hoping for an amicable agreement: “I’m certain that the SNPBC has the good sense to arrive at a reasonable solution,” he said.