Edition 1492
15 September 2018
Edition: 1492

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Government tallies up aftermath of Europe’s biggest wildfire so far in 2018

by Carrie-Marie Bratley, in News · 16-08-2018 09:52:00 · 2 Comments

Members of the government including Portugal’s president have been in the Algarve to survey the damage caused by last week’s massive Monchique wildfire – the biggest in Europe so far this year – and to assess what support measures need to be brought in to aid recovery.

Government tallies up aftermath of Europe’s biggest wildfire so far in 2018

The European Forest Fire Information System estimates that the wildfire which tore through the southern Algarve region last week burned around 28,000 hectares of land.
It began on Friday 3 August and was extinguished seven days later, having been bravely and tirelessly battled by thousands of firefighters.
The fire began in Monchique and spread to the neighbouring counties of Silves and Portimão, injuring 41 people, one of whom, an elderly woman, remains in a
serious condition in a Lisbon hospital.
Government assesses fire damage
Government officials have meanwhile travelled to the Algarve to survey the damage caused by the fire.
The Ministry of Agriculture said that, through the Algarve Regional Directorate of Agriculture and Fisheries (DRAP Algarve), it has, since last Friday, been “taking count of agricultural and livestock losses on farms” affected by the fire.
“At the moment, several technicians are assisting farmers in completing loss statements”, a note from the Ministry explained, though stressed that these statements “are not a formal application for any support that may be made available”, since the current procedure “does not dispense with the subsequent submission of a formal application”.
The Government has also indicated that it is already working on the application process for support measures, “since it wants to start the process as soon as possible”.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was among the dignitaries who toured the Algarve this past weekend in the aftermath of the fire.
Despite being famous for usually providing comfort in the wake of tragedy in the form of his famous hugs, there was little call for consolation during the President’s weekend walkabout of Monchique as de Sousa faced a barrage of confrontational criticism and calls for accountability over how the response to the fire was managed.
He was accompanied for much of his whirlwind visit by Home Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita, who at times appeared distinctly uncomfortable with the fire victims’ challenges.
After the fire was extinguished, even Monchique Mayor Rui André said there was no reason to celebrate victory, but rather admit defeat, underlined by everything that failed, from planning to combat.
Nonetheless, the President maintained his characteristic serene demeanour throughout his Algarve trip, and also visited the Silves Medieval Festival, areas affected by the wildfire in Silves, and held meetings with the region’s main anti-oil movements.
Malaise over president’s Monchique reception
However, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s visit to Monchique on Saturday appears to have caused unease among firefighters. The reception created malaise among Bombeiros because no members of the fire service were present.
The Minister of Home Affairs, Eduardo Cabrita, on Monday pledged to the president of the Portuguese Firefighters’ League that he will ascertain who was responsible for the organisation of the ceremony that formally received the President of the Republic in Monchique.
“The point is that there should be no rite in these things, whether you are President, Prime Minister or Ministers. But if ceremonies are held, if one of the forces is there, then all should be there”, argued Jaime Marta Soares, head of the Portuguese Firefighters’ League, after meeting with the minister.
He spared no criticism of the only force that did attend the ceremony, the GNR’s GIPS prevention and rescue intervention squad.
“It was an absolutely disrespectful attitude (on behalf of the GNR’s GIPS) and humiliating to the Portuguese firefighters”, he said, adding that “for each GNR member present there should have been 95 firefighters”, which Marta Soares claims is the numerical ratio of the forces in fighting fires.
Jaime Marta Soares said he hopes that the person responsible for the organisation of the ceremony “pays the consequences”, but says he also hopes “it was not the Civil Protection” authority.
The head of the Portuguese Firefighters’ League is due to meet with Minister Eduardo Cabrita on 15 September to discuss the firefighters’ role in the Organic Law of Civil Protection and the autonomous command of firefighters.

What could have caused the inferno?
Meanwhile, as the charred countryside seethes, several theories have emerged as to what may have caused the fire.
PJ police are probing whether a downed electricity line could have sparked the flames, aided by soaring temperatures and blustery winds. Others blame its lightning propagation on sprawling eucalyptus plantations – or the Algarve’s ‘green oil’, as it referred to by some – although the regional forestry producers have been quick to leap to the tree’s defence.
Close to half of Monchique’s 40,000 hectares of terrain – about 15,000 hectares of which is covered by eucalyptus - perished in last week’s inferno, plus almost another 10,000 hectares in Silves.

Updates for foreigners
David Thomas, founder of crime and safety prevention association Safe Communities Portugal, has praised Portuguese authorities for providing advice and warnings to help keep thousands of foreigners and tourists in the Algarve safe during last week’s fire.
He said regular updates from entities such as the National Civil Protection Authority (ANPC), which are available in English on Safe Communities’ facebook page and website, were of “vital importance” and reached some 80,000 people.
In comments to Lusa News Agency, Mr. Thomas acknowledged that “during a fire, it is always difficult to provide ongoing information because the situation can change rapidly”, but said he was “pleased” that accurate information from the Government was made available and updated information for the foreign community and tourists was “given in a timely manner”.
“That was very important”, he said, adding: “I was in the police force and dealt with crisis situations in other countries and there are always points that can be improved, but I want to make something very, very clear: this was a very complicated fire, with strong wind and changes of direction, humidity below 10 percent, ground-level temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, and the fire reached speeds of over two kilometres per hour.
“The important thing is that people were removed from their homes in time and, therefore, there were no fatalities”, he praised.
Last year, according to Portugal’s Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests (ICNF), fires destroyed over 440,000 hectares of land in Portugal.

Comments

One wonders how it can be that the state-aided destruction of the natural vegetation in the Monchique hills (and elsewhere in Portugal) and its subsequent afforestation with non-indigenous Eucalyptus trees - which is creating a most obvious fire hazard lethal to life, limb and property - appears to carry no legal responsibility for those who profit from it.
by Klippenoehi from Algarve on 19-08-2018 11:44:00
Would it be worth considering a system of rangers in place in high risk áreas? Using local knowledge of the áreas etc.
Even using drones in crítical
áreas may also help detection early?
by Andrew Wrench from Algarve on 17-08-2018 12:23:00

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Edition 1492
15 September 2018
Edition: 1492

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

Twitter

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