The perimeter of the fire that broke out last Friday in Monchique, Algarve, already surpasses 100 kilometers and this morning 299 people remained evacuated, according to the Civil Protection Authority.
The work overnight to use earth-moving machinery to create firebreaks has paid off but the perimeter of the fire zone has spread to an estimated 100 kilometres, engaging a total of 1,500 firefighters to put out the flames.
At this morning’s National Civil Protection Authority’s briefing by Patrícia Gaspar, those assembled were informed that the continuing hot spots are at Fóia, in Monchique and in a zone between São Marcos da Serra, São Bartolomeu de Messines and Silves.
More than 100 people, including residents and tourists, were evacuated from their homes last night and at dawn in dozens of villages along the EN124 road between Silves and Messines. The situation became very complicated, namely in Enxerim, where the flames came close to buildings and many locals refused GNR orders to evacuate, preferring to keep hosing down their properties as the flames approached. The villages of Pinheiro e Garrado, Pedreira, Barragem, Cumeada, Canhestros, Corgo, Amorosa e Vale Fuzeiros also were threatened.
“The perimeter of the Monchique fire is over 100 kilometres, all of which needs monitoring in case it reignites,” said Gaspar, adding that the military already is patrolling what's left of forests to check for fresh outbreaks.
Deputy Commander Gaspar said, "there is still a possibility of new reactivations," and that a reconnaissance helicopter and an airplane with a thermal camera is circling the area and reporting back.
The temperatures have been lower today, a maximum of 26°C was predicted, which is a relief to firefighters and may serve to decelerate the speed at which the fire spreads but the wind is still the major problem, gusting to 50kmph.
The number of injured is 36, one seriously, of which 19 are firefighters with minor injuries due to exhaustion, smoke inhalation and small sprains.
The fire began last Friday in Monchique, spreading north into the Council area of Odemira in the Alentejo where it was quickly put out, into the Portimão area where it is no longer active, and into Silves where it continues to cause problems. It has consumer over 20,000 hectares.
At noon today, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) issued a notice caution to holidaymakers,
"ABTA is monitoring the situation with forest fires in Monchique, in the Algarve. People on holiday in the area, or planning to visit the area on a day trip, are advised to avoid the affected areas and to monitor news reports and follow any advice or instructions issued by the local authorities, their accommodation providers or the Foreign Office."
At mid-morning, a spokesman for holiday company Thomas Cook said,
"We continue to monitor the situation and have notified any customers who are in Portugal, who have booked hire cars, to avoid the region."
Earlier, the FCO updated its travel advice for the Algarve and suggests that people do not travel to any areas where the fire is burning:
“A major forest fire, which started a number of days ago in the area of Monchique, in the Algarve, has spread to neighbouring municipalities.
“The Portuguese authorities have been evacuating the affected areas. Strong winds in the area make the spread of fire unpredictable.”
The Algarve Tourist Authority said this eveing that, "only a small part of the Algarve has been affected by the discomfort caused by this fire in the Monchique area, so there is no cause for concern for those who choose the Algarve as a holiday destination," and that "the Algarve remains absolutely safe for those who visit us, the area affected by the fire is far from the coast and is inaccessible to residents and tourists while Civil Protection operations are taking place."
In summary, there remains much to be done to extinguish current hot spots and to ensure that burnt areas do not reignite as the wind remains strong and gusting.
Yesterday's exceptionally ill-considered and off-key comments from the Prime Minister, (HERE), have served further to distance Lisbon from the Algarve's vibrant community where the government now is being viewed as out-of-touch, superficial, favouring big business over people, uncaring and lacking in empathy.
This accuracy may well be reflected in the polls as the Socialist Party, since it has been in power, certainly has moved towards the centre, many say to the right.
At Thursday's early evening briefing, the National Civil Defence Association's operational commander for the Monchique fire, Patrícia Gaspar, said that there are no active fronts at this time. This does not mean that the fire has been dominated, as hot spots and reignitions persist.
Throughout the night, it is expected that the weather conditions, in particular the wind, will be "slightly more favorable," so that teams can consolidate the work done so far.
Two groups will be at work overnight. One group will be "on surveillance operations, capable of making a first intervention if necessary" and the other group, consisting mainly of firefighters, with the support of machines, will act in areas where hot spots still exist.
Despite the scare that its inhabitants lived through yesterday, the truth is that, according to the operational commander, there were no houses burned in Silves so the evacuees have returned home.
Those with homes left to return to in the Monchique municipality also can go home with the mayor estimating the 50 buildings have been lost, many of them first homes.
Safe Communities Portugal has the following official information for readers:
Monchique fire protection advice from the government:
and download this .pdf file 'Safe Village Safe People - Protecting yourself against rural fires'