Photo: LUÍS FORRA/Lusa

“We cannot wait for the government”

Castro Marim mayor promises immediate support for wildfire victims

The Algarve’s second major wildfire this summer raged for nearly 40 hours this week in Castro Marim, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António, destroying at least 6,800 hectares of land and the livelihood of several families. Castro Marim mayor Francisco Amaral has promised immediate support for the victims of the fire, saying they cannot wait for government support, which is “burdened by bureaucracy”.

Said Amaral in a statement to the press in which he announced the creation of a ‘support office’ for fire victims: “We have at least one family who lost everything in this fire. We cannot leave them helplessly waiting for support which will never take less than a year (to arrive).”

The council’s support measures will involve providing “urgent economic support” to farmers, helping replant destroyed crops, purchasing animal feed and opening an account to help those most affected by the blaze.

“These measures represent a considerable investment, but our administration believes they are fundamental to these people and our land,” says the local council.
Meanwhile, the regional agriculture director is due to visit Castro Marim on Thursday, August 19 to meet with the affected families and farmers at the Azinhal multiuse centre at 3pm.

The local council also says it will have a “mobile office” there to help people fill in their forms to request support.

DRAP, the regional agriculture board, has also confirmed that fire victims can already report their damages online (www.drapalgarve.gov.pt) or at any of its facilities in the Algarve.

The fire started at around 1am on Monday morning (August 16) before being brought under control shortly after 10.20am. However, the flames reignited later that afternoon and spread to the neighbouring boroughs of Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

The fire raged for nearly 40 hours, only being brought under control the following day at 4.02pm.

As the Resident went to press, over 400 firefighters were still spread out amongst the affected areas making sure that the flames did not reignite.

However, the way firefighting efforts were coordinated has been lambasted by Francisco Amaral.

According to the mayor, firefighting helicopters and planes should never have withdrawn after the fire was brought under control the first time.

He also said that the statements made on Tuesday by Secretary of State for Civil Protection, Patrícia Gaspar – who said that the firefighting efforts were “positive” as only 6,700 hectares of land were destroyed out of the 20,000 that were at risk – were “superficial and misleading”.

Not included in the mayor’s criticism were the more than 600 firefighters, police officers, Portuguese Red Cross members, INEM emergency workers, forestry and nature institute (ICNF) staff and charity association volunteers who played a “huge role” in stopping the flames.

The local council also thanked the citizens and businesses who have come forth with donations to help firefighting forces and those affected by the fires.
The East Algarve Walking Football team, for example, donated around €600-worth of food and water to the firefighters of Alcoutim.

ICNF to investigate death of 14 animals
One horror story that emerged in the wake of the wildfire was the death of at least 14 dogs at an illegal kennel in Santa Rita (Vila Real de Santo António) which was consumed by the flames. An investigation into the horrific event has been launched by the national forest and nature conservation institute (ICNF), which will attempt to understand how this illegal kennel was allowed to operate.

The alarm was sounded by political party PAN, which said that local authorities were already aware of the kennel’s existence – a statement denied by VRSA Mayor Luís Romão, who told Lusa news agency that the council first heard about it after the shocking incident.

He added that the council was involved in the rescue operations which removed nearly 200 animals (80 dogs and 110 cats) from the Castro Marim and VRSA inter-municipal kennel, and that the same could have been done for this kennel had the council known about it.

Alice Gil, a local resident, told Observador newspaper that the illegal kennel had been there “for years”. She said she warned its owners to check on the dogs due to the fire, but they reportedly claimed that they were barred by GNR police from reaching it.

But the local mayor has doubts about this version of events. “They probably did not tell GNR that they wanted to get through to rescue the animals. If they had, efforts would have been made to rescue them,” he told Observador.

Meanwhile, PAN has said it will file a criminal complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s office to determine the “circumstances that led to this outcome”.

“Another policy for forests and the rural world is needed”
The regional delegation of communist party PCP believes that the Castro Marim wildfire has proven that a “new policy for forests and the rural world is needed”.

The gist of their argument is that the government must create conditions for people to live and work in rural areas – which remain scarcely populated and, in some cases, practically abandoned.

As it points out, “without people, it is not possible to manage forests.

“What this fire has shown yet again is that despite the several announcements and legislative changes that have been made (…) all that it continues to take is a few days of stronger heat to spark very large fires,” the party said.

By MICHAEL BRUXO
michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com