Euronews produced this 10-minute documentary about the deadly wildfires that occurred this year in Portugal. The 360 video is very interesting and worth seeing but I could not get it to work properly using the Chrome web browser, however it displayed fine in Firefox.
In 2017, wildfires in Portugal burned about 560,000 hectares (1.3 million acres) of forest, representing 60 percent of Europe’s wildfire total, for a country that makes up just 2 percent of the continent’s landmass.
The fires were the deadliest in the country’s history, claiming more than 100 lives.
I took this photo in August of 2012 in Lisbon, Portugal, and was looking at it again today and thought about ladder fuels. I’m not sure about the flammability of this ornamental vegetation, but wondered if a fire could spread up the exterior of this apartment building through the plants… and eventually into the interior of the structure. It might stay green year round since in January the average high temperature there is 55F and the average low at night is 45F.
Some high-rise fires have spread up the exteriors, feasting on synthetic material like laminated styrofoam.
When numerous fires burned through large expanses of Portugal in June killing more than 60 people, they were fueled in some areas by monocultures of eucalyptus trees. Many areas around the world grow them in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under the trees and through the crowns, fed by the stringy bark, oil, and the leaves and forest litter on the ground that do not decompose. Earlier this year we took this photo after a fire in Chile spread through a plantation.
…Even so, Portugal’s wood industry no longer relies on native species like oak and pine. Instead, it is increasingly built on eucalyptus, which feeds a pulp and paper sector that makes up 10 percent of Portuguese exports. The area of eucalyptus planting has more than doubled since the 1980s.
Eucalyptus can be harvested in half the time needed for pine. And unlike other species, “you have absolutely no need for people on the ground” to supervise its growth, said João Camargo, an environmental engineer.
The tree, however, contains a highly flammable oil that helps fires erupt more easily, spread and intensify.
Yet after every fire, more landowners switch to eucalyptus, hoping that a shorter production cycle can allow them to recoup their losses faster and to harvest their trees before the next fire erupts.
It is an accelerating sequence that has turned Portugal “from a pretty diverse forest into a big eucalyptus monoculture,” Mr. Camargo said.
Above: Satellite photo showing smoke created by a fire in France, July 26, 2017. The red dots represent heat.
(Originally published at 8 p.m. MDT [UTC -6] July 26, 2017)
(Revised at 9:36 a.m. MDT July 27, 2017)
Wildfires in France and Portugal are disrupting the lives of thousands of residents and tourists. Each country has multiple large fires, but one of the largest in France is near the Mediterranean coast 77 km (48 miles) east of Marseille between La Londe-les-Maures and Le Lavandou and has forced the evacuation of about 12,000 people.
Mistral winds spread the fires quickly causing 60 people to be evacuated by boat while others spent the night in gyms, public places, or on the beach.
There was also a 2,000-hectare (4,950-acre) fire on the French island of Corsica.
More than 1,000 firefighters are working on wildfires throughout the country.
Portugal is also struggling to contain a group of fires about 152 km (94 miles) northeast of Lisbon. It was just five weeks ago that a wildfire southeast of Coimbra, Portugal killed at least 62 people, most of whom were attempting to escape in their vehicles. Those fires were about 63 km northwest of the current blazes that are south of Perdigao burning in dense pine and in some cases non-native eucalyptus plantations. Many areas around the world grow eucalyptus in order to harvest the wood, leaves, and oil to make paper and medicine. But wildfires burn rapidly under them and through the tree crowns. Earlier this year we took this photo after a fire in Chile spread through a plantation.
About 2,000 firefighters with 700 vehicles are battling wildfires around Portugal. As in France, the fires are being pushed by strong winds.
Portugal’s fire season usually begins after July 1 but it got an early start this year.
Above: screen grab from Wall Street Journal video.
(Published at 11:50 a.m. MDT June 19, 2017)
The wildfires in Portugal are continuing to spread, forcing residents to leave their homes. Approximately 1,000 firefighters are battling the fires that have killed at least 62 people, including a firefighter who died in a hospital.
Below is an excerpt from a BBC article:
Twelve people survived one of Portugal’s deadliest fires by seeking refuge in a water tank after access to their village was cut off by the blaze.
The residents, including a disabled 95-year-old woman, spent more than six hours in the tank as the fire prevented them from being rescued.
[In the village of Mó Grande] 30 bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on the N-236 road, which leads on to the IC8 motorway. The N-236 was being described as the “road of death” in Portuguese media.
A few kilometres north of Nodeirinho, 11 people died in the village of Pobrais. Local reports said a third of the population had lost their lives, many as they tried to escape the fire. A survivor spoke of the roads being blocked and of no-one coming to their aid.
And from the Business Insider:
Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, many media and residents questioned the efficiency of the operation and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year.
“So what failed this Saturday? Everything, as it has failed for decades,” read a headline in the daily Publico, which blamed a lack of coordination between services in charge of fire prevention and firefighting and poor forestry reserve planning.
The number of people killed in the wildfire southeast of Coimbra, Portugal has risen to at least 62, according to the BBC. That number will probably increase as many remain missing and not all affected areas have been reached by authorities. Six firefighters have been seriously injured and two that were reported missing have been found with injuries.
Hundreds of firefighters and 300 pieces of fire apparatus are battling the fire southeast of Coimbra, one of 60 that broke out Saturday. Approximately 1,700 firefighters have been mobilized across Portugal during the recent extremely hot weather which brought temperatures over 100F. Dry thunderstorms are one of the possible causes of the fires. The government reports that 360 soldiers are assisting firefighters.
Most of the fatalities occurred while residents were attempting to flee in their cars from the Pedrógão Grande area about 30 miles southeast of Coimbra.
The European Commission says it is working with EU member states to respond to the call for assistance issued overnight by Portuguese authorities. The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, said “Greece will offer any help necessary to fight the fires.” Spain and France are both sending several firefighting aircraft.