Although relatively few fires start at 01.00 hrs in the morning, this one did and spread fairly quickly driven by moderate winds. Being at night time, aircraft could not be deployed and for fire fighters on the ground, access was extremely difficult. It was brought under control early on 16 August, but re-ignited, and at the time of going to press it is at a conclusion stage.

Safe Communities has been providing self-protection information regularly on what to do should a fire break out in your area as well as dealing with smoke. We hope this has helped people.

Unless you have experienced a fire, it is easy to become complacent and think, “Well it will never happen to me”, but in doing this, one can become exposed to unnecessary danger, by not understanding the risks. In extreme cases the consequences could be fatal.

Fires can burn with great intensity and spread very quickly. It was reported that at one stage the Castro Marim fire was consuming some 650 hectares an hour! In these situations there is no time to make plans, so it is important to plan well ahead.

It is a fact that in any catastrophe, including major fire incidents, emergency services may not always be able to reach people quickly. This could be due to difficulty of access in isolated areas, with no proper roads, especially at night time, or during a major fire covering a large area with a long perimeter. In the Castro Marim fire the perimeter grew to 43 kilometres!

At some stages some 600 plus fire fighters were deployed. However, not all of those are actively fighting fires at the same time! For example the total includes: drivers, logistics, those taking a well-deserved rest, meal breaks, change of shift for example – so for all these reasons in a large fire people may find themselves alone for a period of time. The only immediate help is neighbours and volunteers, as we saw examples of in the Castro Marim fire. Learning about and adopting self-protection is therefore, “essential”.

Anyone living in high risk fire areas should have a plan of what to do if a fire breaks out and could affect your home. This needs to include for instance: deciding whether to stay or leave, being surrounded by a fire, a fire approaching your property, what to do if trapped inside, dealing with smoke effects as well as helping animals. In addition, the ANEPC advise people to have an evacuation/emergency kit available in case there is a need to leave suddenly.

Although having a plan is important, this could be superseded in an emergency by the instructions of the emergency services on the ground at the time, taking into account actual conditions. Their instructions should be followed. Safe Communities has them on its website. During fires, detailed information on what to do to protect oneself, also available in leaflet form in ten languages.

Portugal is better prepared than ever before in tackling fires, using new technology, pre-positing of resources, additional air power, and very experienced capable leadership. In the Castro Marim fire, apart from Bombeiros, over 15 specialist units were deployed including: the Special Civil Protection Force Analysis and Use Team; drone units plus all others, such as GNR, civil protection. Helicopter pilots and others. They all work as a team and we owe them all a debt of gratitude.
Last words: “Despite however being well prepared – Prevention is the answer, being everyone’s responsibility”.

David Thomas,
President Safe Communities Portugal