Edition 1497
20 October 2018
Edition: 1497

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Tragedy as fires kill scores

in News · 20-12-2017 15:04:00 · 0 Comments

The eyes of the world fell on Portugal in June after a deadly forest fire ripped through Pedrógão Grande, in Leiria, central Portugal, killing 64 people, among them at least four children and a fireman, and injuring as many again.

Tragedy as fires kill scores

The world collectively gasped at the horrific scenes of furious flames and burnt-out vehicles, in which many people perished after trying to flee the fire as it spread at an alarming rate.
The government decreed three days of national mourning at the time.
The massive blaze is understood to have been caused by a dry-lightning strike on a day when temperatures in many parts of the country exceeded 40 degrees Celsius.
For more than 48 hours firefighters from Portugal and international help worked tirelessly to bring the raging fire under control.
The flames spread quickly from Pedrógão Grande(150 kilometres [90 miles] north of Lisbon) to three other nearby villages, in part due to the inland forest terrain, which is home to swathes of eucalyptus and pine trees, as well as other shrubs, dry at this time of year, which would have contributed to its rapid propagation.
Many of those trying to flee, perhaps unsure of which road to take, due to the flames and thick smoke, were horrifyingly engulfed by the inferno.
Questions have been raised as to whether a lack in communications could have delayed the response, and whether more could in fact have been done, given the size and particular conditions of the Pedrógão Grande blaze.
Authorities have come under mounting criticism for not doing more to prevent what is the country’s deadliest natural disaster in decades.
Scorching weather, as well as strong winds and woods that were bone dry after weeks with little rain, fuelled the blazes.
Villages dot the landscape, much of it scorched.
Fire experts, meanwhile, pointed to a series of shortcomings in Portugal’s strategy of tackling wildfires, even though the summer blazes have been happening for decades.
There is a broad consensus that more work is needed on fire prevention, starting with forest clearing and the creation of fire breaks.
“In Portugal, the main factor in the scale of wildfires is the unbroken stretches of forest,” Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal’s Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University, said.
But he noted that around 90 percent of landowners have smallholdings, making it difficult for authorities to keep tabs on them all.
Xavier Viegas, a wildfire expert at Portugal’s Coimbra University, said Portugal needs a long-term strategy, but changes in government often mean changes in forest and farm policies.
He said a key measure would be the creation of “fire-resilient communities” who receive instructions on what to do when faced with a wildfire and to not act rashly.
“We need to prepare them so that they don’t go dashing off in cars,” Mr Viegas said.
Portugal’s leading environmental lobby group, Quercus, blamed the blazes on “forest management errors and bad political decisions” by governments over recent decades.
It rebuked authorities for allowing the planting of huge swathes of eucalyptus trees - the country’s most common and most profitable species - but one that is often blamed for stoking blazes.
Emergency services were also criticised for not closing the road where most of the deaths occurred.

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Edition 1497
20 October 2018
Edition: 1497

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

Twitter

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