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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Criticism Mounts as Portugal Struggles to Tame Wildfire

ARGANIL, Portugal – A 1,000-strong crew is working around the clock to extinguish the fire ablaze in the center of the country, amid fears the wind could change, while criticism mounts over the management of firefighting resources.

The fire is 90 percent under control but danger remains in the gusts of wind and high temperatures forecast on Monday evening, Pedro Nunes, who is coordinating the extinction efforts, said.

He said human, land and air resources had been mobilized to extinguish the fire that broke out Saturday, leaving some 30 people injured, and which threatens the Castelo Branco area of the country.

“The State failed again,” mayor of Vida de Rei, Ricardo Aires, told local media as the fire advanced on his territory. Shortly after, he told Efe “I’m not going to say the State has failed, but the resources are few.”

“The fire needs to be tackled immediately and in the beginning, the resources weren’t the best,” he said.

And the mayor of Mação, Vasco Estrela, said the resources “were not capable of resolving the situation.”

“The resources are always few and the way they were deployed on the ground is debatable,” he said. “You have to ask those in charge, the government, which said it had enough resources.”

The area, close to Pedrogão Grande, where in 2017 over 60 people died during wildfires, has been hit most, with over 6,000 hectares razed.

Mação cannot yet breathe a sigh of relief. Two huge plumes of smoke mark the uncontrolled fronts in Vergão and Casais de São Bento.

A few kilometers away in São João de Madeira, the situation is normalizing, but firefighter João Lima admitted “the night was tough” while his colleague Bruna Silva added the fire was “very complex.”

In the municipality of Arganil, residents said they were “surrounded by flames” overnight.

The center “looked like an island in all the flames,” Jorge, an Arganil resident, told Efe, criticizing the slow response on the part of the emergency services.

“Since the flames started until everything was burned, there was nobody, there was no police officer or firefighter,” he said.

“It was only when everything was half under control that manpower from Mação’s Civil Protection unit showed up,” he said, adding that the mayor came to help with the efforts to extinguish the fire.

Arganil residents did “everything, with hoses, so that the fire didn’t reach their houses, although two old houses burned down,” he said.

In nearby Roda, firefighters used heavy machinery to establish a safety parameter to prevent the flames from spreading.

Since the fire broke out on Saturday it has advanced over 25 kilometers, while about 40 towns are still on high alert.

Of the 30 people who were injured over the weekend, one remains in serious condition.

According to forecasts, the front could reignite with strong winds expected in Mação, the Civil Protection said Monday.


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