Forest fires in Portugal: what are the lessons?
A forest fire in the municipality of Pedrógão Grande in central Portugal that was apparently started by lightning has already claimed 64 victims. Commentators in southern Europe voice shock that politicians and society seem to have learned nothing from previous fires and call for concrete prevention measures.
Prepare for unpredictable climate
The fire disaster should serve as a reminder to consistently push through preventive measures, La Vanguardia warns:
“Once things get back to normal in the country, Portugal needs to look into its high rate of forest fires: 2.2 million hectares of forest have burned so far in what we have seen of the 21st century, compared to 1.9 million hectares in Spain, which covers five times as much territory as its neighbour. … In these bitter hours our sense of solidarity with the Portuguese people is profound and spontaneous. We share the same peninsula, the same climate and the same nefarious tradition of large-scale fires in the summer. What happened this weekend in Pedrógão reminds both the authorities and private individuals of our duty to develop in words and actions a policy to minimise the impact of climate change. The years of heat waves or drought, cold or rain, can no longer serve as an excuse. Nature remains unpredictable, but there is no such thing as an inevitable accident.”
Make forests a priority
Jornal de Notícias explains what measures Portugal needs to take:
“What those in charge need to do now - in view of this enormous human tragedy - is to implement plausible and above all realistic measures that finally enable us to prevent these tragedies. We must finally insist that Portugal be seen as a whole; that the training of firefighters is perceived as a fundamental problem, and that the forests be given the same priority as tourism and industry. It's time for the universities to translate their knowledge into practice rather than being brought in only after it's too late. … Otherwise untended forest areas and depopulated rural regions will continue to burn.”
Austerity with fatal consequences
Notwithstanding the austerity policy, southern Europe must take adequate measures to prevent fires, El Mundo warns:
“It is unacceptable that in the 21st century a forest fire in a country of the European Union can claim such a high number of lives. … This dreadful episode demonstrates that, as things stand now, Portugal is not in a position to control this type of fire. It neither took the necessary preventive measures nor does it have the optimal mechanisms to bring such fires under control, encircle them and put them out. This exposes not just the weakness of its emergency teams but also a worrying lack of resources. The economic crisis and bailouts have severely limited the government's ability to invest, but that is no excuse for ignoring such a grave threat. … The tragedy in Portugal should serve to ensure that fire-fighting measures become a top priority in all of southern Europe.”
Fire is Portugal's terror
Público calls for measures it says are long overdue:
“For at least 50 years experts have been telling us the same thing. Every year we seek the causes and each time we are told that everything will change. But nothing ever happens! Why? ... Portugal can't even look in the mirror any more and congratulate itself on being the third most peaceful country [according to the Global Peace Index 2017 published at the end of May]. A country isn't safe just because it's far away from Paris, London and other places where terror is knocking on the door. Our terror is this: year after year this country dies in the flames. ... This time we mustn't forget. What happened this time can't be simply shrugged off. We must call those responsible to account. ... And that means finally talking about political responsibility and political consequences.”