On August the 3rd of this year a fire raged uncontrollably in the Algarve, and in just one week, burned 27.635 hectares of forest — could this fire have been prevented?
Most of those living in hot countries know, that fires seem to be a regular occurrence. This year was not exception. With a sudden rise in temperatures in August, after our unusually cool summer, alerts were sent out to all. (which later had to be corrected as ProCiv (Protecão Civil — Civil Protection) had accidentally sent out the number of a local glass company as the emergency number).
We were not off to a good start.
When I heard that a fire had broken out in Monchique, a popular tourist destination for both nationals and foreigners, my heart sank.
The fire quickly burned out of control and after a few days of seeing images of this blazing fire flooding the social networks, encroaching on populated areas, horrific photographs of terrified people being evacuated when the fire was dangerously close to their homes — I couldn’t help but feel that something could be improved.
Many of these firemen are volunteers and although they are trained, there is a difference between learning the theory of fighting fires and actually going out there and ‘fighting’ them. Those in charge of the operation did not seem to be able to coordinate the operation successfully during the first 5 days and according to eye witnesses, including the Voluntary Firemen on the scene, at one point they were told to wait five hours for instructions.
One of the major problems with these fires is the areas affected can often be very difficult to get to, here is where prevention is a great measure to take; firebreaks for example.
The locals stood frustrated as the fires grew closer to their homes and nothing was being done, then they were evacuated when the flames were literally at the door of their homes!
The conditions these brave people are expected to work in are horrendous. The psychological effect for these men and women is that of fighting in a war.
They had to sleep on the floor.
They would have a maximum of 3 hours sleep at a time and then be expected to go out and fight some more.
How efficient will this make them?
Can you imagine fighting this fire, going to sleep and then waking up 3 hours later to tackle it again?
We were told that there were 1300 firemen on the scene, however many of these were hungry, dehydrated and under extreme psychological pressure. Locals pulled together, as they do every year, and got supplies for these brave man and women, including socks, toiletries, water and energy bars; But that just isn’t enough.
In the Portimão arena the operation was running full scale for those that had been evacuated. A kitchen was set up in a local school, meals were provided, and even beds.
However not all of the firefighters had access to these facilities, being out in the field, without any apparent relief rota set up, and those that could make it didn’t even have a bed to sleep in. Beds should have been provided for them and clean clothes! (they had to sleep on the floor in their dirty uniforms, then get up and carry on fighting the fire.)
Now that things have calmed down would be a good time to see what measures can be taken in the future to minimize the risks.
A better protocol needs to be set up, drastic measures need to be taken, before the fire season starts; not during, when nobody can think straight and just wants to point the finger at everybody else.
The general population needs to be informed, drilled and prepared, they also need to obey instructions and not hinder the evacuation processes, although it is understandable that people don’t want to leave their homes — or their pets. (and they shouldn’t have to leave their pets if a plan is set up correctly!)
After 5 days of this raging inferno under the command of Vítor Vaz Pinto, who was said to have made huge mistakes in a previous fire in the Algarve in 2012, control was passed onto, Patrícia Gaspar; she was later scolded on the social networks for saying that her concern was with people and not pets, this did not go down too well, even thought she got the fire under control within 24 hours.
You can’t please everybody.
But sadly, afterwards, tempers seem to calm down and people seem to forget, until next year when it starts all over again. Concerns now lie in re-housing those who lost their properties. The chances are that next year, the same thing will happen.
There is a famous saying:
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
One of the major concerns was that it was reported that the big clean up campaign launched by the government after the horrors in Pedrógão Grande last year was not undertaken in Monchique, and had been scheduled for 2019!
Let’s hope they do something this time!