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Wildfires return to scorch Portugal’s north

UPDATED TEXT:

Just as Portugal ‘exited’ its ‘critical fire phase’ on September 30, a new round of devastating fires assailed central and northern districts, causing yet more death, serious injuries and the destruction of property.

It is further stark proof that habitual fire ‘calendars’ have to change as the weather shows no sign of significant cooling – and rain is not forecast anywhere.

As we went to press on Wednesday, “almost 100 boroughs” were on maximum fire alert up and down the country, and major fires were still ongoing in the northern boroughs of Viseu and Braga..

Death came to a luckless farmer in Guarda on Monday – fleeing a fire he appears to have started himself to clear land for planting.

On the same day, two firefighters were hurt when their vehicle careered into a ditch responding to calls for help over a fire that started in Pampilhosa da Serra at 11pm on Friday night.

The fire – only ‘dominated on Tuesday – was almost certainly started on purpose, given that it began in the middle of the night when humidity was at its highest.

But this was the last concern on the authorities minds as they spent a nightmare weekend responding to dozens of forest fires from Pampilhosa north and eastwards.

Tragically, Pampilhosa’s blaze spread to neighbouring boroughs, devastating land that had only just missed the raging fires of Pedrógão Grande where 64 people lost their lives in June.

On Tuesday, five further firefighters were hurt – one seriously – when the brakes appear to have failed on their engine as it sped to help ongoing efforts in Arganil (one of the secondary sites of the Pampilhosa blaze).

This far, the Algarve appears to have been spared. But land is tinderbox dry – particularly in the Sotavento – and authorities everywhere cannot afford to relax.

On Tuesday the government was forced to admit “Phase Charlie’s” danger is far from over, even if the three-month emergency period is technically past.

Over 70 forest lookout posts which closed on September 30 have been reopened, and contracts with companies offering air firefighting support have been extended to the end of the month.

At 8pm on Tuesday evening, almost 2000 firefighters were still actively involved in trying to save communities from further danger, while 161 forest fires had been called in in the space of 24 hours.

On Wednesday morning, the situation was reported to be ‘calming’. Temperatures, finally, are dropping outside of daytime hours and this is helping the national picture.

But ‘final tallies’ of the hectares that lie blackened and twisted this year are ‘back on hold’ as no one can tell when Portugal’s nightmare with fire 2017 will be finally over.

ENDS

First text:

Starting a little after 11pm on Friday, Portugal’s ‘nightmare with fire’ returned with avengeance.

Within hours a wildfire started almost certainly on purpose in Pampilhosa de Serra, Ribeira de Pena, in the district of Porto, had turned into a monster.

Still raging today, it was swiftly joined by other blazes from Pombal (Leiria) above Lisbon, all the way to Bragança and Vila Real.

Today (Sunday), the situation sees well over a thousand firefighters battling six “significant occurrences” (see fires website fogos.pt) with the help of hundreds of vehicles and air support, while in total 81 wildfires had been called in in the space of just 24 hours.

The Pampilhosa blaze on its own sees 600 firefighters still involved, many drafted in from outlying areas of Lisbon.

In some areas, villages have been evacuated while householders continue to play a key role in fighting flames in a bid to save rural communities.

On Saturday, CMTV carried numerous reports of people fighting with hoses and buckets “on their own” – calls to fire stations unanswered simply because corporations were busy elsewhere.

In Marco da Canaveses (Viseu) complaints highlighted forestland that has “not been cleaned” for years (despite frequent requests to councils to do so).

In Oleiros, where a fire started yesterday afternoon near the village of Cardal, a council worker was killed after the tractor he was using to create a firebreak toppled over on a hill.

According to tabloid Correio da Manhã, the machine rolled over and over, trapping the 51-year-old man in the cabin.

By the time rescue workers cut their way through to him, Avelino Mateus Ferreira had “died of his injuries”.

With temperatures still almost ridiculously high for what is now the start of the second week in October, the nightmare looks set to continue.

Rain is not forecast any day soon, reports CM, whose CMTV channel is accompanying the fires throughout the day.

 

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com