Wildfire latest: government authorises purchase of five military firefighting planes

With major fires still underway in Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Sertã and Viseu, the government has finally authorised the purchase of five military firefighting planes, with the option of adding a sixth to a multi-million euro shopping cart.

The cost, according to negocios online last month, will be roughly €70 million per plane (a total of €350 million for five planes; €420 million if the deal includes six).

The decision published today in State newspaper Diário da República sees the government suspend modernisation plans for its current fleet of C-130H planes.

Said the resolution from the Council of Ministers, the new KC-390 craft, to be purchased from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer, will reinforce the military’s “current capacity of air transport, search and rescue and evacuation of national citizens from the continent and archipelagos, while at the same time be available “to respond to the permanent necessities of the country”, in other words, fires during the summer months.

It is a positive step, but unlikely to see the planes in action before 2021, explains Diário de Notícias.

Meantime, the deputy mayor of one of the latest areas to be ravaged by fires that have destroyed countless people’s lives has criticised the the country’s firefighting strategy for “monumental failure”.

Mação’s António Louro is a forestry engineer, thus his criticism comes from specialist knowledge.

He told journalists that successive governments have lacked the courage to properly ‘organise’ forestlands, and run them with sustainable cultures.

“We’ve sounded warning for the last 14 years” regarding the risks in Mação, he said, but locals will only be able to “sleep in peace” when action is finally taken.

In Setúbal, where earlier in the week a hotel and hundreds of local residents had to be evacuated as flames bore down on residential areas, the borough council is starting to take action by confiscating the land of owners who refuse to keep it clear.

So far, it has taken possession of 30 properties, councillor in charge of civil protection Carlos Rabaçal has told reporters – the inference being more will go the same way if landowners don’t start taking notice.

Rabaçal added that this year, Setúbal council has notified 650 landowners that they need to start clearing brush and scrub, and opening up fire breaks and access pathways through their properties, but that “around half that number did not comply with what was asked”.

As for yesterday’s story of a ‘pyromaniac housewife’ allegedly responsible for starting a major fire in Castelo Branco (click here), news today is that she is being held in preventive custody.

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