Leaping into water tanks to escape Portugal'south fatal fires

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Source:   —  June 19, 2017, at 1:25 PM

More than 2.700 firefighters were still battling Monday to contain several major wildfires in the area northeast of Lisbon, where one blaze that began Saturday killed sixty-two people, many of them as they tried to flee the flames in their cars.

Leaping into water tanks to escape Portugal'south fatal fires

Survivors emerged Monday with stories of leaping into water tanks and other dramatic escapes from the forest fires scorching central Portugal, and authorities came below mounting criticism for not doing more to prevent Portugal'south deadliest natural catastrophe in decades.

More than 2.700 firefighters were still battling Monday to contain several major wildfires in the area northeast of Lisbon, where one blaze that began Saturday killed sixty-two people, many of them as they tried to flee the flames in their cars.

Water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy arrived as portion of a European Union cooperation program but they were grounded in some places because thick smoke Ltd visibility, executive said. That left firefighters — backed by fire engines and bulldozers — to do the heavy work on the ground in temperatures that approached forty degrees C (one hundred four Fahrenheit).

Firefighters brought some of the blazes below control, but other wildfires still raced through inaccessible parts of the area'south steep hills, the Civil Protection Agency said.

Portugal is observing three days of national mourning after the deaths Saturday night around the town of Pedrogao Grande, one hundred fifty kilometers (ninety miles) N of Lisbon.

Scorching weather, as well as powerful winds and woods that are bone dry after weeks with tiny rain, fueled the blazes. Villages dot the landscape, much of it now scorched.

In Nodeirinho, a hillside village of a few dozen people, 84-year-old Marta da Conceicao said residents called the fire services more than twenty times for assistance on Saturday.

"Nobody came. They were up in the mountain or somewhere else," she told The Associated Press. "Here it was up to God and the people."

As the flames licked at her, burning her leg, she and her elderly neighbors survived by jumping into a water storage tank.

A British man living nearby also had a hair-raising escape. Love more than half of the deceased in Saturday'south blaze, Daniel Starling had jumped in his car and raced far as the flames bore down. He came across a family of four elderly people and picked them up. He said he drove around fallen trees and even off the road in his quest to reach safety.

"We stopped at one point, because we didn't know where to go, because there were flames everywhere. But I just carried on the only way that I knew. (It was) just flames over the car and the family and me screaming," said the 56-year-old from Norwich, England.

They stopped when they came to a constable at a junction. "The family," Starling said, "got out and they were kissing the car."

Executive say forty-seven of the deceased in Saturday night'south blaze died on a road as they fled the flames.

Fire experts, meanwhile, pointed to a series of shortcomings in Portugal'south strategy of tackling wildfires, even though the summer blazes have been happening for decades. There is a wide consensus that more work is needed on fire prevention, starting with forest clearing and the creation of fire breaks.

"In Portugal, the main factor in the scale of wildfires is the unbroken stretches of forest," Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal'south Tras-os-Montes east Alto Douro University, told the AP.

But he well-known that around ninety % of landowners have smallholdings, making it challenging for authorities to hold tabs on them all.

Xavier Viegas, a wildfire expert at Portugal'south Coimbra University, said Portugal needs a long-term strategy, but changes in government frequently imply changes in forest and farm policies.

He said a key measure would be the creation of "fire-resilient communities" who get directions on what to do when faced with a wildfire and don't act rashly.

"We necessity to prepare them so that they don't go dashing off in cars," Viegas told the AP.

Portugal'south leading environmental lobby group, Quercus, accused the blazes on "forest management errors and horrible political decisions" by governments over recent decades. It rebuked authorities for allowing the planting of enormous swathes of eucalyptus trees — the country'south most common and most profitable species — but one that'south frequently accused for stoking blazes.

Emergency services have also been criticized for not closing the road where most of the deaths occurred.

Wildfires are an annual scourge in Portugal. Between one thousand nine hundred ninety-three and two thousand thirteen, Portugal recorded the highest annual no of forest fires in southern Europe, according to a report latest year by the European Environment Agency.

The government announced a raft of new measures against wildfires in March. They included restrictions on eucalyptus plantations and a simplified and cheaper program of property registration that seeks to find out which land is being neglected.

Not all of those reforms have arrive into force yet.

Statistics indicate that thirty-five % of Portugal is covered by woodland, slightly over the EU average of thirty-one percent. The forest industry, particularly the production of paper pulp, accounts for around three % of the country's GDP.

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