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Women among 37 ‘arsonists’ rounded up in wake of Portugal’s devastating wildfires

Bucking the dismal trend for arsonists in this country, PJ police have arrested at least two women among the 37 alleged fire-raisers taken into custody this year.

One is suspected of having caused three fires in Oliveira do Bairro (Aveiro), while the other has been ‘identified’ by the GNR in Mirandela.

Both are understood to be at liberty, awaiting trial.

This is another moot point about the way this country deals with suspected arsonists.

“More than half” are released, pending a court slot – and the results can be catastrophic.

A perfect example is the so-called former fireman arrested earlier this week who is alleged to have set 26 fires this year, after serving prison time in the 90s for arson.

Fernando Bastos, 44, is back behind bars – and apparently “maintaining his silence”.

The many fires he is believed to have started this year caused widespread damage but were not, says national tabloid Correio da Manhã, any of the ‘big ones’ that started mysteriously along massive stretches of forestland all at the same time.

These are still being investigated, with fire chiefs hinting at a form of “organised terrorism”.

Meantime, Fajões fire station to which Bastos claims to have been attached 20 years ago, has said it has no record of his past employment.

He may have ‘helped firemen put out fires’, which commandant Ricardo Guerra says makes the situation all the more frustrating.

“We end up distrusting everything and everyone,” he said.

The typical profile of an arsonist is male, single/widowed, unemployed, unqualified, with drinking/drug problems and a criminal record.

According to Observador, arsonists are frequently aged 20-35, although this is not always the picture – with a number of people detained already over the age of 40, including one of the women this week.

Paulo Gonçalves, 24, is however the man believed to be behind the terrible fires that raged in Madeira, leading to the deaths of three elderly people.

With a 37-year-old named as Benjamin arrested in the Algarve yesterday – suspected of having started a fire in Benagil that threatened the holiday home of Benfica president Luís Filipe Vieira – the truth about nearly all the arsonists arrested this year is that the blazes they started were comparatively easy to combat.

Only Gonçalves has real ‘blood on his hands’, and thus the petition now circulating calling for the maximum jail term of 25 years for arsonists which has already amassed over 52,000 signatures (http://peticaopublica.com/pview.aspx?pi=PT82461).

Minister pledges new philosophy for forestry planning

As money is due from Brussels to finance at least 85% of the costs of Portugal’s recent wildfires, agriculture minister Capoulos Santos has declared that “strong measures are needed to prevent future forest fires”.

Finally drawing the correlation between the abundance of eucalyptus plantations and wildfires that spread uncontrollably, the minister has said in future no one will be able to plant new swathes of eucalyptus, without reducing similar plantations in another area.

“We cannot uproot the trees that are already planted,” he said yesterday. “But those that are to come can only be planted if they are compensated by an area that is reduced.”

Capoulos Santos was talking in Lisbon as the government announced that farmers and producers who suffered damages in the fires can now candidate for special state aid.

Candidacies remain open until September 15, he said.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com