Wildfires trigger evacuations near Lisbon

Wildfires trigger evacuations near Lisbon

REPORT • Oct 2018

Eighteen people were injured and 350 evacuated from Sintra-Cascais Natural Park on 7 October following the outbreak of wildfires 25 miles (40 km) west of Lisbon. Seven-hundred firefighters and six air units have been deployed to the area to support minimising the spread of the fires. While weather conditions have improved in the past 24 hours, sections of the fire remain out of control. Record temperatures and resulting dry conditions have left much of the Portuguese countryside vulnerable to wildfires; unusually warm, windy conditions are expected to persist in coming weeks presenting a continued threat to travellers in rural areas

KEY POINTS

  • Eighteen people were injured and 350 evacuated from Sintra-Cascais Natural Park on 7 October following the outbreak of wildfires 25 miles (40 km) west of Lisbon
  • Seven-hundred firefighters and six air units have been deployed to the area to support minimising the spread of the fires. While weather conditions have improved in the past 24 hours, sections of the fire remain out of control
  • Record temperatures and resulting dry conditions have left much of the Portuguese countryside vulnerable to wildfires; unusually warm, windy conditions are expected to persist in coming weeks presenting a continued threat to travellers in rural areas
Wildfires trigger evacuations near Lisbon

SITUATIONAL SUMMARY

Environmental: A major wildfire began in the early hours of 6 October in the popular tourist area Sintra-Cascia National Park, located 25 miles (40 km) to the west of Lisbon and is the latest in a series of wildfires to sweep across Portugal this summer. Local authorities evacuated 350 people, including 300 from a campsite in the immediate locality.

The dry and windy conditions coupled with the unusually warm weather caused the fire to initially spread rapidly through the region causing injuries to 17 firefighters and one civilian. Up to 700 firefighters, supported by six aerial units, have been deployed to the affected area. The strong winds have subsequently subsided, allowing firefighters to contain most of the affected area; however, some localised blazes remain outside their control.  The authorities have cordoned off several areas in the Sintra-Cascia National Park including blocking several main access routes in the area.

Travellers in the region are being advised to follow all official directives from the emergency services and reconfirm the status of roads prior to departure, ensuring that they plan routes avoiding affected areas and allowing additional time to complete journey.

SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT

Unseasonably warm weather and minimal rainfall in September and October has led to several high impact wildfires throughout Portugal. Strong winds have further exacerbated the situation, leading to an unpredictable movement of the fires and increasing the speed at which they are spreading. Although rainfall is forecast for Wednesday, further dry and warm weather will persist throughout October, maintaining the risk of fires. Portugal experienced fewer wildfires in June and July than normal, largely due to a higher than average level of rainfall as well as additional preventive measures imposed by the government; however, following record temperatures in August, the rate of such fires has increased. In early August over 1000 firefighters had to be mobilised to the southern Algarve region following a large and fast-moving fire that quickly engulfed several villages and hotels, leading to large scale evacuations.

Severe drought, prolonged heatwaves and the high density of flammable forest and scrubland has resulted in Portugal having one of the highest wildfire risk rankings in Europe. Trends highlighting the annual burn area in Portugal have shown a clear rise in the intensity of such wildfires over the last four decades. There are several contributory factors that have led to an increase in wildfire events in Portugal.  Primarily, areas that have been previously maintained and looked after by local land owners have suffered from the recent urbanisation trends, with population moving from rural locations to urban centres in search of other professions. This has left increasingly large areas of agricultural and forested land unattended, without proper maintenance and not meeting appropriate fire regulations.

These unmanaged areas are increasingly becoming the trigger points for high intensity fires throughout the country. Poor land management coupled with a regional increase in temperatures and reduction in the levels of precipitation has resulted in large areas of unmanaged vegetation becoming highly combustible. As a result, any number of triggers could result in a severe, unpredictable and fast-moving fire, that overwhelms the capacity of emergency responders to manage such events.

Following a series of wildfires in 2017 that led to the death of 114 people, the Portuguese government has ensured better resilience measures throughout the country, hiring and training additional firefighters while also applying controls to ensure landowners remove highly flammable undergrowth from their land.  Further measures have included pre-emptive evacuation planning and guidance for tourists on what they should do in the event of a wildfire.

Security Advice

Moderate Environment Risk

Wildfires are difficult to predict and can occur with minimal or no notice and therefore travellers going to regions prone to such fires should take pre-emptive actions prior to travel. Travellers in affected areas should carry out a risk assessment prior to travel, identifying key evacuation routes and evacuation points ahead of time and speaking with local contacts about potential fire risks in certain locations. Consult the website of the Instituto Português do Mar e da Atmosfera (IPMA) to check areas that are at risk from wildfires. Maintain a grab bag throughout the duration of the travel with essentials including: a torch, first aid kit, prescription medicine, dry snack foods and bottled water. Have a primary and secondary communication device available and keep photocopies of essential documents including passport, visa, insurance policy and important phone numbers.

  • If a traveller finds themselves in an area affected by wildfires, they should comply with the local authorities and their directives. Regularly monitor local news and radio for updated emergency guidance and information about affected areas and ongoing response.
  • If local authorities issue an order for residents to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • If driving, keep all; windows rolled up and air vents closed. Locked doors can delay emergency services accessing the vehicle in the event of an incident.
  • Roads may become blocked; it is therefore prudent to plan multiple routes to intended destination and set out after confirming which is least impacted.
  • If you are unable to evacuate and are stranded in the affected area call the local emergency services and Solace Global. Provide your location as well as a local landmark. If located within a building, close all the doors and windows to minimise exposure to smoke.  Fill the bathtub and any other storage containers with water. If you see smoke entering from under a door place a wet towel to block it.
  • If in the immediate vicinity of a major wildfire and visibility is poor, do not attempt to outrun it or try to speed up to escape it as this could pose additional risks for travellers and responders. Find a body of water (lake/pond/river) nearby and then take refuge in it until the fire burns out.
  • If there are no bodies of water nearby, try to locate a clear area with little or no vegetation, that is situated away from nearby bushes and forest. Lie down on the ground and cover yourself with a wet blanket or clothing, or alternative if not available, sand. Stay low and covered until the wildfire passes or emergency services arrive. Inhale air close to the ground or through a most cloth to avoid inhaling smoke.

Post Incident

Following any major fire travellers can expect significant disruption in the affected area. Roads and access routes are likely to be cordoned off during rescue and recovery efforts. Movement through severely affected areas should be done within a suitable pre-trip planning. Flight schedules and airports may be impacted for days due to poor visibility because of smoke and smog caused by wildfires. Reconfirm flight schedules as a precaution and liaise closely with your airline. Travellers in the area should also inform their company to confirm their status and safety. Telephone networks might not be working immediately, in which case travellers should send either a text message or a message on an internet-based application to their human resources department or immediate line manager.


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