Fire in Southern Portugal burns 52,000 acres

The fire is burning near Monchique in the southern Algarve region

Portugal Monchique fire wildfire
The map shows heat in Southern Portugal detected by a satellite August 8, 2018. Other areas that burned in previous days have cooled and were not seen by the satellite’s sensors. Click to enlarge.

A fire that started August 3 has burned 52, 000 acres (21,000 hectares) in the southern Algarve region of Portugal.

Below is an excerpt from an article at Geo.tv dated August 9, 2018:


“MONCHIQUE: Wildfires scorched across Portugal’s southern Algarve region on Wednesday, threatening more villages as the country’s prime minister warned the blaze could burn for days before being brought under control.

“Over 1,400 firefighters and soldiers were battling the blaze around the mountain spa town of Monchique in one of Europe’s top tourist destinations.

“They were backed up by 13 water-dropping aircraft that scooped water from the sea at nearby beach resorts to battle the flames which were scorching a path towards more villages.

“Sweltering temperatures and strong winds kindled blazes that have whipped across the region as the Europe-wide heatwave sent the mercury above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in some areas of Portugal at the weekend.”

Fire causes evacuations near Monchique, Portugal

At least two villages have been evacuated

Above: the map shows the approximate location of the burned area northwest of Monchique, Portugal, August 5, 2018.

A wildfire in Portugal’s southern region of Algarve is causing evacuations in the northern portion of the region northwest of Monchique which is about a half hour drive from the tourist facilities on the coast.

Similar to the heat that is complicating efforts of firefighters in California, temperatures have been close to all time records. Some locations are experiencing 46C (115F).

The fire near Monchique has burned approximately 1,000 Ha (2,470 acres). It is being fought by by 800 firefighters, 130 soldiers, and  12 aircraft. Last year wildfires in Portugal killed 114 people in the country’s worst such tragedy on record. Authorities pulled the trigger much more quickly this time to evacuate at least two communities near Monchique.

In the video below helicopters use a swimming pool to refill their water buckets.

x

Short documentary about the disastrous wildfires in Portugal

Above:  Screenshot from the documentary.

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.

If the video does not work, you can view it on YouTube.

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.

Ladder fuels on a multi-story structure

lisbon portugal plants window
An apartment building in Lisbon, Portugal. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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.

Eucalyptus trees contribute to Portugal’s wildfire problem

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.

wildfire eucalyptus plantation
The aftermath of a wildfire that burned through a eucalyptus plantation in Chile, February 2, 2017.

The New York Times published an article today that looks at how eucalyptus and other issues combine to create a wildfire environment in Portugal that is difficult to manage.

Here is an excerpt:

…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.

Large fires hit areas in Portugal and France

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.

fire in Portugal satellite photo
Satellite photo of smoke created by a fire in Portugal, July 26, 2017. The red dots represent heat. Click to enlarge.

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.

wildfire eucalyptus plantation
The aftermath of a wildfire that burned through a eucalyptus plantation in Chile, February 2, 2017.

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.