Serra da Estrela fire in August “must serve as lesson to us all”
One of many extraordinary photographs coming out of the Serra da Estrela tragedy. This one by Nuno André Ferreira/ Lusa

Serra da Estrela fire in August “must serve as lesson to us all”

Rehabilitation contracts totalling €8.9 million signed in Covilhã today

Portugal’s environment and climate action minister Duarte Cordeiro said today that the fire that raged for more than 10 days in Serra da Estrela mountains in August must “absolutely serve as a lesson to everyone”.

“We have to take care of our treasures. What happened here on August 6 must serve as a lesson to us all. Absolutely everyone,” he said.

The minister was speaking in Covilhã, Castelo Branco district, during a ceremony to sign contracts worth a total of €8.9 million for soil stabilisation and rehabilitation of hydrographic networks in municipalities affected by the fire – easily the worst fire, in terms of area and exceptional habitats devastated, in living memory.

At the session – also attended by mayors of the multiple affected municipalities – Duarte Cordeiro stressed that none of those present wished to have to sign these contracts but they became “absolutely necessary” because of the incredible level of damage.

The minister highlighted the importance of Serra da Estrela – which still enjoys UNESCO biosphere status, and will do for the next year, regardless of the damage.

The serra “is a national treasure”, he said. “We have to preserve areas that provide us with water, intangible environmental wealth, sustainable products of high economic value, clean air and landscapes.” 

Recalling the day when the fire in began, he said what happened must be subject to “reflection and analysis” so that lessons can be learnt.

“Those who carried out preventive actions have to, necessarily, evaluate if the measures were effective and, if not, they have to improve their work” – this being an oblique reference to the tactics used in fire combat, which in a number of cases, left areas to burn, or burnt areas ahead of them, the idea being to stop the fire from spreading. 

Those who fought the fire must reflect on their actions and also learn from their mistakes, if any, he said. 

Those who manage and look after the territory on a daily basis are asked to judge its land use, especially in risk areas. 

“To those who – like me or the secretary of state of nature conservation and forests – have governmental responsibilities, we are asked to mobilize the resources to fight the damage and that we reflect on policies for natural land, namely on the co-management model of protected areas and of forest and biodiversity policy”.

The signing of today’s contracts was “to avoid further damage to habitats and species of flora and fauna, as well as to recover forest areas that have been severely affected”, he added.

The contracts have been signed between the Portuguese Environment Agency and the Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests with municipalities, management entities of wastelands and hunting areas.

Part of the investment will have to be executed by the end of this year and the remainder during the first half of 2023.

The fire in Serra da Estrela started on August 6 in Garrocho, Covilhã municipality (Castelo Branco district) as the country baked in 40ºC temperatures. It rapidly spread to other municipalities – prompting a great many criticisms over firefighting strategy.

According to government data, the fire consumed 28 thousand hectares of the Serra da Estrela Natural Park. As a result the government declared a situation of calamity for the region, which qualified it for the grants and funding that are now in place.

Source: LUSA