The Secretary of State for Civil Protection, Patrícia Gaspar, said: “We had an occurrence here with huge potential for destruction, with a potential area that could have reached 20,000 hectares, and the numbers we have are instead quite positive and are due to the effectiveness and operability of all those who fought this fire, either on the ground, in the operating rooms, or in the regional command, but also at the headquarters of the National Emergency and Civil Protection Authority, where this entire operation was monitored from the outset.”
The fire initially began during the early hours of Monday, 16 August in the municipality of Castro Marim and was thought to be under control on the same day at 10.30am However, adverse weather conditions saw the flames spark up again and the fire only being declared as under control again on 17 August at 4.02pm.
“We are delighted that there are no victims of this fire, either at the level of the civilian population or at the operational level. There have been some minor injuries and we hope that those who suffered them can recover quickly”, she said.
The Secretary of State highlighted the work that has been done with “a constant appeal” for there to be “an adaptation of the behaviour of the entire population in forest areas” and stressed that the fire happened “on what, to date, was the worst day in terms of weather severity this year”.
“We have warned that any small ignition, in these weather conditions, can degenerate into a large occurrence and this is proof that these appeals are never too much,” she warned.
Patrícia Gaspar also highlighted the work that has been done by the Civil Protection and the Government in the implementation of “a completely integrated device, increasingly robust”, which is “guaranteeing good results”.
“We all have to be somewhat satisfied - not with the fire, which we obviously wish had not happened - but because, considering the consequences that it could have had, the balance is somewhat positive”, she concluded.
The fire affected an “estimated area of 6,700 hectares, already [calculated] using the Copernicus system, of the European Union”, a figure that represents “the hard work” of the operatives who fought the fire, against the burning of a “potential 20,000 hectares” that the flames were predicted to reach.
Animals die in illegal shelter
While there was no loss of human life due to the fire, many animals perished in the flames including animals that had been housed in an illegal shelter in the area.
The minister of Environment and Climate Action stated that the death of animals in the illegal shelter in Vila Real de Santo António was “unacceptable”, stressing that the opening of an administrative inquiry will make it possible to determine concrete responsibilities.
Speaking to Lusa, minister João Matos Fernandes lamented the death of more than a dozen animals.
“First of all, I deeply regret what happened and condemn those who, even having added responsibilities for having animals in their care, do not [know] how to be diligent and allow these things to happen,” he said.
The minister also highlighted the importance of opening the administrative inquiry by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) so that concrete responsibilities are investigated, since this is constituted as a crime.
“This inquiry is important to try to learn from this case that others that exist will be discovered and properly inspected. It is important to understand what happened, to understand how, hidden from national entities, there can be a completely clandestine shelter. It is unacceptable for this to happen”, he stressed.
The minister also appealed to entities that have animals in their care and are not licensed to ask for help.
“The appeal is that all entities - because no one knows where the fires are going to happen - that have animals in their care, even if they are not licensed, to ask ICNF, the local authorities for help. We will then deal with licensing but for now these lives must be protected”, he stressed.
Golf course affected
In total, 81 people were evacuated during the fire but thanks to the work of the firefighters and teams, few buildings were destroyed.
One place that was destroyed was the café at the Monte Rei Country Club however the director of the club told Lusa that despite the fire being “a big scare” luckily only one building was burnt down and the club expects to reopen at the weekend.
“We thought the fire was going to pass by us, but there was a front that developed towards us in the late afternoon [on Monday] and, with strong winds, it quickly entered the property, affecting some areas of the golf course and continuing south. Basically, it crossed from north to south,” said Salvador Lucena.
At the time the resort had 70 guests: “The authorities present advised them to leave. There were people who left, others chose to stay”, said Salvador Lucena, underlining that firefighters were present on site throughout the night.