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Portugal Forest Fires Worsen, Fed by Poor Choices and Inaction

Today more than 25,000 volunteers operate alongside about 5,000 professional firefighters in Portugal.

The system of volunteers has been affected by the migration from rural to urban areas, meaning young volunteers often need to travel long distances to reach a forest fire, which occurred with the tragedy at Pedrógão in June.

“In the U.S., it’s forbidden for a firefighter to enter an unknown environment, but this now often happens here,” said Emanuel Oliveira, a fire risk consultant and former firefighter.

Jaime Marta Soares, the president of Portugal’s league of firefighters, defended the know-how of the volunteers, and said that if anything were to blame for inadequate responses, it was failures of public administration.

In particular, he pointed to the switch to an emergency communications system, known as Siresp, in 2006.

In Pedrógão, many died in their cars trying to escape the flames. Siresp’s breakdown is part of the investigation into the tragedy, to determine why the police and emergency services didn’t steer drivers away from danger.

Siresp “was never prepared to handle a large number of users at the same time,” Mr. Marta Soares said. “That’s incompetence and irresponsibility.”

Source: NYT > World

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