2017 Portugal wildfires
A series of four initial deadly wildfires erupted across central Portugal in the afternoon of 17 June 2017 within minutes of each other, resulting in at least 64 deaths and 204 injured people.
|2017 Portugal wildfires|
NASA satellite image of the fires and associated smoke plumes across Portugal on 18 June
|Location||Pedrógão Grande, Leiria, Portugal|
|Total fires||156 total, 11 active|
|Total area||44,969 hectares (111,120 acres) as of 20 June|
|Date(s)||17 June 2017 – ongoing|
|Injuries||204 confirmed (7 critical)|
The majority of deaths took place in Pedrógão Grande when a fire swept across a road filled with evacuees escaping in their cars. Portuguese officials dispatched more than 1,700 firefighters nationwide to combat the blazes and Prime Minister António Costa declared three days of national mourning. Spain, France, Morocco and Italy deployed firefighters and Water Bombers Canadairs to help extinguish the fires. Although most official reports point to a dry thunderstorm as the cause of the tragedy, the president of the Portuguese Firefighters League expressed his conviction the fire was provoked by arsonists.
An intense heat wave preceded the fires, with many areas of Portugal seeing temperatures in excess of 40 °C (104 °F). During the night of 17–18 June, a total of 156 fires erupted across the country, particularly in mountainous areas 200 km (120 mi) north-northeast of Lisbon. The fires began in the Pedrógão Grande municipality before spreading dramatically causing a firestorm.
Dry thunderstorms preceded the event and may have ignited some fires: the National Director of the Judiciary Police, Almeida Rodrigues, has stated that the police, along with the National Republican Guard, have since found the tree that started the fire when it was struck by lightning. The forests of Pinhal Interior Norte, where Pedrógão Grande is located, are predominately composed of pine trees and the invasive species, eucalyptus, the latter having surpassed pine as the dominant tree in the country in the last ten years.
At least 64 people died nationwide in the fires—the largest loss of life due to wildfires in Portugal's history. At least 204 people were injured, including 13 firefighters; five people—four firefighters and one child—were in critical condition. Two firefighters were also reported missing. A total of 44,969 hectares (111,120 acres) of land was burned by the fires as of 20 June. Of this, 29,693 hectares (73,370 acres) was in the Pedrógão Grande area.
The greatest loss of life took place on a rural road in Pedrógão Grande, where 47 people died in or near their cars when a fire overtook the area; 30 people died while trapped in their vehicles while the other 17 died nearby trying to escape on foot. Another 11 people died in Nodeirinho, near the IC8 motorway. Twelve people survived near Mó Grande as fire overtook the roads by taking refuge in a large water tank near the motorway. Dozens of small communities were severely affected.
Prime Minister António Costa called the disaster "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires". Three days of national mourning were declared beginning on 18 June. Arriving at Pedrógão Grande before midnight on 17 June, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa was visibly shaken, and gave long hugs to Jorge Gomes, the Secretary of State of Internal Administration (who had been on the scene since the fire broke out), Valdemar Ramos, the Mayor of Pedrógão Grande and, after addressing the journalists, Constança Urbano de Sousa, the Minister of Internal Administration. The President met with survivors who were evacuated to Leiria.
More than 1,700 firefighters were deployed to combat the fires. France and Spain provided a collective five water-bombing planes along with 200 members of the Military Emergencies Unit and the European Union began coordinating international relief efforts on 18 June. Many people were evacuated to neighboring Ansião, where residents provided them with shelter. Low-hanging smoke prevented helicopters from providing support, hampering firefighting efforts. Some survivors criticized inadequate response from the government, claiming no firefighters reached them for hours after the blaze began. They also stated poor forestry planning and "depopulation of remote villages that left many wooded areas untended" were to blame.
In the afternoon of 20 June, according to reports, one of the foreign aid Canadair water bombers crashed over Pedrógão Grande, though Secretary of State of Internal Administration Jorge Gomes could not confirm the reports. Later, the National Authority for Civil Defence dismissed all reports of a plane crash, attributing eye-witness reports of the crash to a gas explosion on a camper trailer.
In Rome, Pope Francis led thousands of people in silent prayer for the victims. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, tweeted that he was 'stunned by the tragedy in Pedrógão Grande', and offer to provide any assistance necessary. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his condolences on Twitter: 'Sad to learn of tragic loss of lives in the forest fire in Portugal. Deepest condolences to the Portuguese people on this tragedy'. Christos Stylianides of the European Commission said 'We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones', adding 'the EU is fully ready to help. All will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need'. The Spanish Royal Family also tweeted its condolences to the Portuguese people. French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: 'Solidarity with Portugal, hit by terrible fires. Our thoughts are with victims. France makes its aid available to Portugal.'
On the afternoon of 18 June, the Portuguese national football team, playing against Mexico for the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, donned black armbands in remembrance of the victims, and a minute of silence was observed prior to kickoff.
Condolences also came from Malta, Germany and China, among others. In a letter dated June 20, President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on behalf of the people of Singapore, they extended heartfelt condolences and deepest sympathies to the Portuguese people on the loss of life and damage caused by the fires.
The Portuguese winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, Salvador Sobral, announced on 19 June 2017 that he would donate all the profits from the sales of his CDs sold during a concert in Ourém to the people of Pedrógão Grande and the relief efforts in the town.
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Many blamed poor forestry reserve planning and depopulation of remote villages that left many wooded areas untended.
- Jones, Sam (18 June 2017). "Huge forest fires in Portugal kill more than 60 people". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
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- "O Pinhal Interior Norte onde se situa Pedrógão já é metade eucaliptal" [Half of the Pinhal Interior Norte where Pedrógão is located is now made of eucalyptus plantations]. Público (in Portuguese). 18 June 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
- "6º Inventário da Floresta Nacional" [Sixth Inventory of the National Forest]. Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (in Portuguese). Portugal. February 2013. p. 12-13. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
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- Anabela De Sousa Dantas (21 June 2017). "Incêndio em Pedrógão Grande e Góis queimou quase 45 mil hectares" (in Portuguese). Notícias ao Minuto. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
- "Incêndio em Pedrógão ao minuto: Número de mortos aumenta para 57. Trovoadas secas na origem do fogo" [Fire at Pedrogão grande by the minute: number of deaths rises to 57. Dry lightning at the fire origin]. Público (in Portuguese). 17 June 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- "Pelo menos 57 pessoas morrem no incêndio em Pedrógão Grande" [At least 57 deaths in the Pedrógão Grande fire]. Observador (in Portuguese). 17 June 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- "57 mortos no incêndio em Pedrógão Grande" [57 dead in the Pedrógão Grande fire]. Diário de Notícias (in Portuguese). 17 June 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Lúcio, Susana (18 June 2017). "Quem é Jorge Gomes, o homem do Governo em Pedrogão Grande?" [Who is Jorge Gomes, the Government spokesperson in Pedrógão Grande?]. Sábado (in Portuguese). Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- "As imagens da emoção de Marcelo em Pedrógão" [Pictures of Marcelo overcome with emotion in Pedrógão]. Observador (in Portuguese). 18 June 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- "Seis aviones y 200 militares españoles luchan contra el fuego en Portugal" [La Unión Europea ha activado un mecanismo de ayuda para enviar aviones antiincendios a Portugal y, con el fin de ayudar al país vecino, Mariano Rajoy ha ofrecido a António Costa "toda la colaboración" del Gobierno para acabar con el fuego.]. Antena 3 (in Spanish). 8 June 2017. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
- "Avião Canadair cai em Pedrogão Grande" [Canadair aeroplane crashes on Pedrógão Grande]. TSF (in Portuguese). 20 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
- "Secretário de Estado não confirma queda de avião" [Secretary of State won't confirm aeroplane crash]. Expresso (in Portuguese). 20 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
- "Proteção Civil desmente queda de avião Canadair em Ouzenda" [Civil Defence denies Canadair plane crash in Ouzenda]. Jornal de Notícias (in Portuguese). 20 June 2017. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
- CNN, Julia Jones, Nicole Chavez and Chandrika Narayan. "Portugal wildfire: 61 killed, victims burned in cars as they fled". CNN. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
- Sobrecogidos por la tragedia en Pedrógão Grande, toda la solidaridad y afecto de España con #Portugal, in Spanish, Twitter, 18.06.2017.
- Portugal forest fires: Three days of mourning for 61 victims, BBC, 18.06.2017.
- "The Latest: Portuguese soccer team sends condolences on fire". The Washington Post. 18 June 2017. Retrieved 18 June 2017.
- Guterres, shocked by the Pedrógão Grande tragedy, vows to assist Portugal. 18.06.2017 (in Portuguese).
- Singapore leaders offer condolences for victims of Portugal forest fires, Channel News Asia, 21.06.2017
- Pereira, Bernardo (19 June 2017). "Portugal Wildfires: Salvador Sobral Raises Money For Pedrógão Grande Relief Efforts". wiwibloggs.com. WiwiBloggs. Retrieved 20 June 2017.