Portugal – Vieira de Leiria forest fire

This post is about a place called Vieira de Leiria, which is far to the north of Lisbon.

In the English news, I see that your sun is turning red, and that this effect is being blamed on a cocktail of Hurricane Ophelia, sand from the north of Africa, and the Portuguese forest fires of 2017.

So for those of you worried about Ophelia, here is Vieira de Leiria. This is what has been sucked up.

Vieira de Leiria is on the coast, roughly as far north as Pedrógão Grande, so they are having a tough time up there with natural disasters.

I am told that the burning season has started in the Algarve. That means the time when one is legally permitted to burn the agricultural dross one could not dump in summer. I believe the farmer across the valley did a bit of burning 3 days ago, judging by the smoke.

We happen to live on a village spring, so our chances of disappearing in flames are small. But the Portuguese bureau responsible for predicting fires has now placed two of the regions of the Algarve on the highest warning level (along with 4 in the north and centre of the country). The farmer to the south-east of us was out on Saturday morning ploughing his land and his tractor disappeared in a huge plume of dust, so the land here is definitely parched.

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What do bombeiros eat when on duty?

In the area of Portugal north of Lisbon, there have been vast numbers of forest fires in the months gone by. It has been the worst year for these fires in the last 15 years. 2017 saw the fire around Pedrógão Grande, in which 64 people died. The firefighters came under political pressure as to whether that conflagration was handled correctly.

Units of the army had been drafted in. Assistance was sought from, and given by, Spain. One pilot lost his life when his helicopter hit high-voltage power lines, causing the aircraft to hit the ground.

Bear in mind that while there are professional firefighters in Portugal, the numbers of these are small. The majority of bombeiros are volunteers. So what do bombeiros eat? I know from one MasterChef episode that tarmy personnel require 3,000 calories per day. I presume the bombeiros requirement is similar.

I read an article a few days back about the amount they are permitted for food and drink per day. From memory, the amount for lunch was 7€. That would be enough to cover a menu do dia, but it doesn’t seem to work like that. Instead, local câmaras etc. are responsible for meal provision, and they seem to put it out as a contract to tender.

And that means meal delivery looks like this.

Please look away now if you are squeamish.

I have called this photo ‘Rice but with what?

Notice the container is metallic, so the meal was probably on the cold side.

The next one is rice, beans and sweetcorn. In nutrition terms, this is actually quite balanced. But is it really enough to power a firefighter?

The last one I will say nothing about, other than it is allegedly spaghetti and sausage.

The eastern half of the Algarve is now on high alert for fires, following an extremely dry August. There is no alert in my part, here in the western half of the Algarve.

It has been raining in Lisbon sufficient to cause flooding. Presumably that will help with the forest fires up north. On the Algarve, we have had nothing, not a drop. My problem is watering our orange and lemon trees here in sunny Portelas.

Portugal – Pedrógão Grande extra

I had thought I had made my last post on the Pedrógão Grande fire that killed 64 people, but it appears not.

I wanted to avoid the aftermath of funerals, tales of burnt out houses, and recriminations about who could and should have done what when.

However, a development yesterday means I need to rejoin the fray.

The IPMA, the Portuguese equivalent of the Meteorological Office, has said it has analysed the data around the time that the fire allegedly stared.

I have no expertise in IPMA capability in Portugal in 2017, so I have to run with what has been reported.

It has been stated that in the period of 5 minutes before the start of the fire and 5 minutes after, there were 10 lightning strikes, but of these only 2 reached the ground.

There were 3 lightning strikes ‘close’ to the start point, but these were 3 hours or more after the blaze started, and the nearest was 7.3km (4.5mls) from the alleged source.

How is this record building up? It seems the fire was first reported to emergency services at 2.43pm, and this is being used as the time of origin. I haven’t a clue as to how the IPMA measures lightning strikes, gains a location for them, or works out whether they were ground strikes or not.

It seems the recriminations have started. It is claimed the emergency services were slow to respond, to both the fire and the resulting injuries. This happens to be the part I particularly wished to avoid, because I have no idea what a reasonable response is. And with 64 dead, this angle is likely to get very sour indeed.

The IPMA says the weather was high temperature, low humidity, extreme dryness, and that for 50 minutes around 7.50pm, the blaze was fanned by high winds.

The IPMA thinks the probability that the source was a lightning strike is very small, though it has not ruled this out entirely. This of course raises the question as to which alternative source might be likely for the 64 deaths.

Portugal – Pedrógão Grande end

The forest fire at Pedrógão Grande was declared to be over yesterday, Saturday 24th July, in mid-afternoon, one week after the blaze started.

There were still isolated areas of flames within the perimeter, but the main body had been extinguished.

There remained 570 firefighters, assisted by 214 vehicles.

The death toll is currently at 64. The number of homes affected by the blaze is estimated at 90.

Already a new problem has arisen. Those returning tell of assaults, thefts and burglaries.

For this reason, the local câmara is controlling access to the zone. Those wishing to enter the area must present themselves to the câmara with identification. Such people are then given a special access card, to show that they have been checked.

The GNR has stepped up its presence by adding 20 horse teams to patrol the area.

I have little idea of what the weather has been like around Pedrógão Grande during the week. Here in Luz a small thunderstorm has just passed over, brining a small amount of rain. According to my weather station log, that is the first rain since 11 May 2017. Then it rained overnight, giving a good watering, whereas today the rain was hardly of note, and evaporated rapidly.

Portugal – Pedrógão Grande #2

Correio da Manhã did a drone flight over one of the worst incidents on the N236 around the Pedrógão Grande forest fire, and from that I noticed something odd. The tree trunks are blackened but intact. The tree tops are fine. It wasn’t the trees that were burning. It was the undergrowth.

This van is typical of what happened to vehicles caught in the fire. The tyres have burned off. There is no glass to be seen. The front section of the bodywork, plastic, has been melted off. The van happens to have struck a tree at a fair speed, causing the bonnet to collapse. The tree is blackened but otherwise unscathed. In the background you can see the trees still have tree tops.

This scene is the clearest I can find of what was going on. Unfortunately, the precise location has not been given, so I can’t run checks on it. However, you can see that it is not the trees in the forest that are burning. The fire is limited to near ground level. I suppose forest fire is the correct term but I had always thought of a forest fire as burning lots of trees. This is more like a brush fire.

The fact that it is burning dry vegetation close to the ground explains why the fire spread so quickly.

Why does this interest me? We don’t have a forest near us now, and we won’t have one when we move. What we do have here is a lot of dense, dry undergrowth which is an obvious fire hazard. I will need to check out the situation when we make our house move, because I would prefer not to be surrounded by such tinder.

Portugal – forest fire at Pedrógão Grande

Portugal has announced 3 days of mourning for the 62 dead, so far, in the forest fire in the Pedrógão Grande region, which broke out on Saturday and continues to blaze at this time.

The photo below comes from the N2 atop the Barragem do Cabril dam, and this gives you an idea of the terrain and the woodland that the firefighters, the bombeiros, are facing.

This dam and river happen to be the junction of Leiria District and Castelo Branco District, why is why photos from the major news sources show bombeiros from both teams.

The grey structure in the background is the modern road, the IC8. Many of the main stream pictures come from the IC8.

The next photo is the Ponte Filipina. It was built around 1607-1610 in order to replace an old wooden Roman structure. It connects Pedrógão Grande to the north with Pedógão Pequeno to the south. It was intended for foot and horse traffic only, and the approach road was built in 1860. When the Cabril Dam and the N2 were built it became redundant and fell into disuse.

The enormous concrete structure behind is one of the supporting pillars of the IC8, as it crosses the valley.

In the next graphic, Pedrógão Grande is marked in red. The squiggle to the right is the river as it approaches the Cabril dam.

Above, to the west is Coimbra, the location of the INML laboratory that carries out forensic testing for the Polícia Judiciária.

Slightly south and to the west is Leiria. While slightly south and to the east is Castelo Branco. These are the two regions trying to fight the fire.

I have included Lisbon, for the simple reason that I know where to point to it on a Portuguese map. Close by, I know we have visited Évora, which I believe is a world heritage site. I think we have visited Estremoz and Elvas, but I would need to check.

The final location you might wish to note is Fátima, just south east of Leiria. Fátima is in an adjacent region of Portugal, called Santarém.

Within Santarém in another place that interests me. It is called Mação. Whether it has anything to do with the former Portuguese colony of Mação in China, I know not at this point.