segunda-feira, 19 de junho de 2017

Portugal fire survivor: 'I should have died' / What impact did climate change have on Portugal’s deadly wildfire?

Portugal fire survivor: 'I should have died'
18 June 2017

Gareth Roberts: 'You could hear the roar of the fire coming... we just sat and waited to die'
A wildfire in central Portugal, apparently started by a lightning strike in dry conditions, has claimed dozens of lives.
One of those lucky to survive was Gareth Roberts, 36, who is originally from Colne in Lancashire but who has lived in central Portugal for the past four years.
He told the BBC his story.
We were driving back from holiday in Cadiz in Spain and were about 50 minutes from home - we'd known about the fire for a few hours, we could see the plume of smoke.
We'd driven through a thunderstorm and when that cleared, you could see the smoke. I thought it looked quite bad, but I had no idea until we got nearer.
We found ourselves stranded in a village called Mó Grande, just off of the IC8 motorway; ourselves and others were directed there by an officer from the IC8.
As we drove up the mountain road you could see the flames jumping across from one side of the valley to the other.
The accompanying wind threw branches at the car but you couldn't stop, you could feel the heat.
Gareth Roberts praised "the most amazing acts of humanity" by strangers
Gareth Roberts captured this image of fire looming over Portugal as he sought shelter
Eventually we reached the small village at a crossroads surrounded by fire. Locals and ourselves were crying, overwhelmed by the heat and speed of the fire. It was dark, so dark, among the flames.
A man shouted for us to come and take refuge in his home, along with his mother. Several of us did.
His mum had an annex flat downstairs, where it was cooler and out of the way of the fire. During the time there, more people were arriving, knocking on the door, people just congregated where there were signs of life.
The guy's mum poured us wine, and it would have been pleasant if it wasn't for the circumstances.
When I had got to the village I messaged my parents to tell them: "I am in a village, fire is all around, this is the end." But when I got to the house, there was no network, so I thought: "The last thing I told my parents was that I was dying."
Most of the victims died in or near their cars around Pedrogao Grande
As the power went off, the flames hit hard, a fiery red tornado passed the windows. We crouched on the floor for a good hour, trying to breathe, praying, crying.
I am not ashamed to say it: I was praying, we were all praying. I am not religious, but at that time, you couldn't do anything else.
I said: "It can't end like this." I just started crying and got emotional - I was no use to anyone for 20 minutes.
Eventually the fire passed and we emerged to see the smouldering remains of the village. Miraculously, our house and the one next door did not burn.
Three days of mourning in Portugal
Portuguese Republican National Guard soldiers battle with a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal, 18 June 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image caption
Efforts to fight the fire continued well into Sunday as the death toll rose
A burned car at N236 road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, near Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal, 18 June 2017Image copyrightEPA
The prime minister called it "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years"
The devastation was indescribable. People, bewildered, remains of homes burning uncontrollably, concrete posts exploding over roads.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. After the fire passed, it should still have been bright, but it was dark. There was a strange film over everyone's eyes.
You could hear gas canisters exploding, see blue flashes going off. There was just a strange silence. There was a lull, a strange feeling. It then turned to relief, there was crying.
At this point, there hadn't been help from anyone with the authorities. All the help was from the locals, without phone calls being made and without internet, just the way it had always been done.
If those people hadn't shown their generosity, we would not be here today. There have been so many examples of the most amazing acts of humanity.
I said thank you to them for saving my life. But a small 'thank you' is nowhere near enough.
We could have died. We should have died. A random act of kindness last night saved our lives and now all we can do is pray for Portugal.
After the fire, Gareth travelled to the town of Tomar, where he remains in a hotel. The fire has prevented him from travelling home, but he hopes to return in the coming days.
He also hopes to return to Mo Grande to thank the family that saved his life.

Gareth Roberts was speaking to the BBC's Roland Hughes

What impact did climate change have on Portugal’s deadly wildfire?
Global warming was a factor in a deadly wildfire that hit central Portugal and left more than 60 people dead, it’s been claimed.

Chris Harris
last updated:

Thomas Curt, a researcher at the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for Environment and Agriculture, said climate change had extended the wildfire season from two to up to five months.

Curt, asked what role global warming plays in wildfires such as the ones seen in central Portugal, said: “It is a certainty, we are witnessing a rise in temperatures, but a warmer air is synonymous with drier, more flammable vegetation.

“These meteorological conditions increase the risk of fire but also their intensity. We can now see fires, like that of Portugal, which firefighters can hardly extinguish.

“Moreover, during the last fifty years, the fire season, before reduced to July and August, is extended from June to October.”

Curt said on top of climate change Portugal had an ‘enormous amount of combustible vegetation’ such as pine forests and eucalyptus trees.

“In addition, the entire Iberian peninsula, including Portugal, is currently facing a particular meteorological situation. It is much hotter and much drier than usual in June.

“However, each time you gain degrees, you increase the risks and intensity of fires.

“As a further aggravating factor, the Iberian Peninsula is experiencing global warming more severely than other regions.

Curt also said there was a growing trend of large, covering 100 hectares, and ‘mega’ wildfires, affecting more than 1,000 hectares.

“It is really a growing problem all over the world and especially in Mediterranean Europe,” he added.

“They are still rare, accounting for only 2-3 percent of the fires, but are responsible for three-quarters of the burned areas.

The different analyses of climate change show that these great fires will become more and more probable.”

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