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Russia and NATO talk of fire-fighting missions in Portugal

In a surreal week which began with much of the north of the country still in flames, both Russia and NATO have been talking about fire-fighting in Portugal.

Russia has been giving itself some very good press, telling news sources that its massive Beriev Be-200 planes which flew in last weekend as part of a European protocol managed to put out six forest fires in five days that “covered an area of around 1000 hectares”.

According to Russia’s press spokesman, the country’s pilots “saved two national parks and three communities with a combined population of 55,000”.

A statement carried by Sputnik News added that in the five days they were here, “the planes from Russia’s Ministry for Emergency Situations carried out 42 water drops, with a total weight of 5,000 tons, putting out more than 1000 hectares of forest fires”.

Absolutely no mention was made of the fact that shortly after their arrival both planes suffered technical faults and had to be temporarily grounded.

But now that the heat of Portugal’s fire emergency seems to have subsided, NATO has suddenly appeared on the scene, saying it can see no reason why it shouldn’t start helping Portugal with fire-fighting capability.

Admiral Manfred Nielson was talking to Lusa as NATO’s first Portuguese took up his new posting at the organisation’s Joint Analysis and Lessons Learned Centre, in Lisbon.

Air Force Brigadier General Mário da Salvação Barreto will be responsible for “studying operations and exercises and for proposing improvements”, said Lusa, and he is the first Portuguese to be promoted to such a role.

But, questioned about fires, Admiral Nielson agreed NATO should be on hand to help “if Portugal asked”.

Lusa stressed that Nielson said the “support would depend on what Portugal wanted. It could pass from air capability, like helicopters, or personnel, including brigades of firemen, just like what happened in 2003 when the Atlantic Alliance gave Portugal Canadair planes and helicopters, and a team to combat the fires”.

Considering the furore that has been raging about the money spent on hiring private aviation companies to fight Portugal’s wildfires, there are bound to be many who find NATO’s sudden apparent willingness to get involved a tad perplexing – not to mention late in the day.

Meantime, the country remains on heightened fire alert, with data collated showing that this year has been “three times worse” in terms of forestland destroyed than 2006 and 2015.

The district of Aveiro has been the most affected, with 41,000 hectares destroyed, reports Rádio Renascença, and “just in the borough of Arouca more than 60% of the area has been ravaged by flames: over 25,000 hectares in one single blaze”.

Viseu too lost 30% of its forest, and Madeira has registered damages now set at €61 million.

Today (Friday) came news that a man released after arrest for arson appears to have started four more blazes during Thursday night in Santarém.

“The authorities have no doubt that the fires were started by the same man”, writes national tabloid Correio da Manhã, adding that the number of people detained for arson this year has now risen to 39.