Incredible winds accompanying the passage of Hurricane Ophelia as it bears down on the UK have played into the hands of Portuguese arsonists making this Sunday October 15 “the worst day this year” for forest fires (see update below).
From midnight on Saturday to 5.30 this afternoon, no less than 303 forest fires had been called in – at least 13 of which swiftly turned into monsters.
There is no doubt as to the origins of these devastating blazes. Said Jorge Gomes secretary of state for internal administration we are talking arson.
The question remains “why?”.
Answering journalists’ questions earlier today he said: “You don’t set a country on fire from one day to the next just because it has been announced that tomorrow (Monday) there will be rain.
“There are people who cannot resist this, who look for their own personal interests.
The principal areas on fire today were cattle-grazing pasture.
“This is not by chance”, Gomes stressed.
Right now, the worst of the blazes are in the centre and north – the very same areas that have been targeted throughout the summer.
Monção (Viana do Castelo), Seia (Guarda), Lousã and Arganil (Coimbra), Sertã (Castelo Branco) and Vale de Cambra (Aveiro) are among the “most complicated” outbreaks, with almost 2000 firefighters giving their all.
In Vale de Cambra, five firefighters have been injured, in Guarda another six (since writing this report, injuries are up to 17 firefighters, 23 in all).
Houses have been damaged – their occupants evacuated, cars destroyed; over 20 roads closed. Populations are working alongside the authorities as fires bear down on communities and threaten further homes and businesses – most notably a fireworks factory in Monção.
Civil Protection’s spokesperson Patrícia Gaspar confirmed today that this has been the worst day of the year for outbreaks of horrendous proportions. “We have already had over 303 fires since midnight. All available means are fighting fires”, she told the late afternoon briefing.
How the night will develop is the big question.
Winds fanned by Ophelia as the hurricane reduces in intensity are still massive – and temperatures throughout the day have been stultifying.
It is literally the country’s worst nightmare.
With controversy still raging over responsibilities for the horrific death toll in June at Pedrógão Grande, no one could have imagine that Portugal would be plunged back into tragedy and heartache so late in the traditional fire risk season, and with rain purportedly so ‘nearly on the way’.
Latest update midnight Sunday: Three people have been killed. Two in Penacova, one in Sertã. According to CMTV, if the rain doesn’t come as promised tomorrow, Monday will be “an authentic nightmare. Winds are “cyclonic”, communities are in panic – even reporters on the ground are running out of words.
More updates tomorrow morning, in the meantime:
Minister for Internal Administration Constança Urbano de Sousa told Lusa this evening that Portugal has actioned the European Civil Protection Mechanism, as well as the protocol with Morocco.
From tomorrow morning, Moroccan air support should be in this fight – while temperatures are due to drop from 6º-13º with an updated forecast for “lots of rain”, lasting till the end of the week in some districts.
According to Expresso, the “most accentuated temperature drops” will be 18º in Santarém (from today’s 38º to 20º), Braga and Viseu (-13º) and Coimbra, Setúbal and Viana do Castelo (-12º) – many of them areas where fires have burning “uncontrollably”.