The Monchique fire
The temperatures dropped after the first weekend of August, but the Monchique fire turned out to be a massive environmental catastrophe. Unlike what could be expected, the firefighters were not able to take on that task, and the fire continued to rage for a whole week. Western Algarve’s beaches coped with a dense, dark and “doomsday-esque” smoke cloud for several days.
No deaths were reported, but there were about 30 injured, and the fire placed Portugal as the country with the bigger burnt area in Europe, this Summer – in spite of the massive wildfires that happened in Sweden and Greece.
The lessons of 2017 have not been forgotten, but…
We can’t really say that the huge tragedies that happened in Portugal in June and October if 2017 have been forgotten. Quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps for the first time, and in spite of some three decades of regular wildfires, the subject never left the media headlines and the political discourse throughout the year.
The urgency and pressure applied by the GNR police to remove endangered people from their homes, all over the villages affected by the fire, was a shred of evidence for this. Neither the authorities or the Government itself were willing to risk to lose more lives after what happened last year.
…problems can’t be solved in a year
Regardless of the efficiency or lack of it regarding the measures taken to fight the Monchique fire, it is clear that the disaster was previously announced. The Monchique Heights were classified, by an academic investigation, as the number 1 risk area of fire in the entire country. All the risk factors were there: widespread fire-suited forest (Eucalyptus), difficult or non-existent road and trails, the orography (valleys with steep inclines), etc. The region had suffered a similar event in 2003.
The Monchique fire turned out to be a “regular” fire, after the odd events that happened in 2017 (similar to what happened in Greece in July). A vast, uncontrolled forest fire, but allowing people to flee. Portuguese society is acknowledging that the decade-old strategy of investing in eucalyptus is turning into a security threat at all levels, and the pressure to change it will continue high over the next years. Prime-minister António Costa just announced a new plan of reorganisation and economic diversification for the burnt area, and there will be strong pressure on him and his eventual successor to deliver this plan and others similar.