Monday 20 August 2018

'We could see the fire, the sky was red' - Irish family on emergency evacuation from Portuguese hotel as area ravaged by wildfires

Gordon and Barbara Englishby with their children Rhys and Rebecca
Gordon and Barbara Englishby with their children Rhys and Rebecca

Payu Tiwari

An Irish family has told how they had to be urgently evacuated when “wildfires breaking out by themselves” left them stranded amidst the huge flames that have swept the forested hills of Algrave in Portugal.

Gordon Englishby, his wife Bairbre, and their two children Rebecca and Rhys, were on a holiday in Portimo, Algrave when they had to flee from their hotel due to a forest fire on Sunday evening.

Since then, the “fire has divided into three directions,” and is inching closer to their new hotel in Alvor, southern Portugal.

“Phone lines are down at the hotel in Monchique. Smoke clouds are now visible and there is a smell of smoke coming from the fires to our new hotel in Alvor,” said Ms Englishby.

The family, who are from Co Cavan, has been in Portugal since last Thursday, and witnessed the flames inching very close to their hotel on Sunday evening.

“On Sunday night, we were in Portimo with my family,” said Mr Englisby. “We were out for the evening, we got back by 10.45pm to our hotel. When we got as far as the hotel, we saw fire on the hillside overlooking at our hotel.”

Mr Englishby said that he had noticed “a lot of activity with the Emergency Services and Fire Services” since Thursday, but only on Saturday he saw “quite a bit of smoke.”

“All Saturday, we were told by the hotel management that there was nothing to be concerned about. But while returning back on Sunday night, we could see the fire. The sky was red, and people were gathered around on the road.”

Mr Englishby said that the hotel management eventually made a decision, and the guests were evacuated from the hotel.

“We were fortunate that we got most of our belongings out of the room,” he said, “but there were some families that we were speaking to - they couldn’t get as far as the hotel that night; they were turned back at police checkpoints some kilometers away from the hotel.”

More than 1,150 firefighters battled flames in the southern Algarve tourist region on Monday, with late winds fanning the blaze and forcing the evacuation of another village.

Mr Englishby said that as they were being evacuated, they saw “the fire spreading very quickly and fires breaking out by themselves” along the coast.

Rhys,Gordon, Barbara and Rebecca Englishby were on holiday in Potugal when the fire began
Rhys,Gordon, Barbara and Rebecca Englishby were on holiday in Potugal when the fire began

“I was reasonable, but my children became afraid,” he said. “I thought it wouldn’t be so bad, but obviously the wind changed direction towards our hotel and that brought in the flames. The change in the direction of the wind made all the difference. “

The fire has injured 25 people and spread quickly over the weekend as a heatwave swept large parts of Europe. Authorities had hoped to control the blaze during the day as temperatures fell slightly, but instead it flared up again.

Temperatures reached a peak of nearly 47'C on Sunday, and it remains extremely hot in most of Portugal. Authorities have kept sending more firefighters to Monchique over the past 24 hours, with 1,158 mobilised by Monday afternoon.

The army sent 160 soldiers to help with evacuations.

Authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure there was no repeat of last year's tragedies, when two deadly fires struck Portugal in June and October, killing a total of 114 people, after an extended drought and hot weather.

Hundreds of new firefighters have been hired and efforts made to clear flammable undergrowth from forests. Until the heatwave this had largely worked, partly as the summer had been unusually cold and wet.

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News