Friday 17 August 2018

'It was dark, smokey and scary, like in a movie' - Dublin woman speaks about Portugal wildfire ordeal

Andrea Hoban
Andrea Hoban
Andrea Hoban
Andrea Hoban
Andrea Hoban

Payu Tiwari

A Dublin woman and her family caught up in the Portugal wildfires during a holiday to a popular tourist destination has spoken about her ordeal.

More than a thousand firefighters supported by 19 aircrafts have been battling a major wildfire in southern Portugal for a fifth straight day.

Authorities had hoped lower temperatures overnight would allow services to finally contain the blaze, which was 95pc under control on Monday. But the fires continued to spread, and the officials blamed it on strong, gusting winds fueling the flames, which are racing through the dry and largely inaccessible woodland.

Dublin woman Andrea Hoban, and her twin sons (14), landed in Montechoro in Portugal last week for their annual vacation to the country. Ms Hoband said that the family was at the Aqualand Waterpark last week, “before the fires spread badly.”

However, it was yesterday, while out for a family walk in Albufeira, that the real fear struck. 

“It felt scary, like in a movie,” Ms Hoban told Independent.ie. 

“The sky was scary yesterday, it was all dark and smokey. 

“We saw several emergency vehicles go past us, and ashes were falling on us and blowing into our eyes as we were walking.”

Andrea’s children both reacted differently to the situation. 

“One of my kids was scared in case the fires would spread in our direction and my other child thought it would be a great photo.”

Ms Hoban said that they are staying twenty minutes away from the fires and were afraid that the blaze would soon reach them. 

“We were afraid about the fire blowing or spreading towards us and where we would go in that case. 

“We were also scared that the airport would close, and our flight would be delayed,” she said. 

Yesterday, the fire came within 500 metres of the fire department in Monchique, a town of about 2,000 people about 250km south of Lisbon, as officials evacuated scores of houses.

Emergency services say 29 people have been hurt in the wildfire. An unknown number of homes - believed to number in the dozens, according to local reports - have burned down.

The firefighting effort itself has drawn criticism, with some claiming poor organisation is hampering the operation. Monchique was identified as a high-risk area months ago.

Firefighting in Portugal is coordinated by the Civil Protection Agency, a government body overseen by the Ministry for the Interior, which oversees national defence.

The National Association of Professional Firemen and the Professional Firemen's Trade Union issued a joint statement saying that the government's recent reorganisation of firefighting capabilities need to be reassessed and rethought. 

They have asked for a "very urgent" meeting with the Minister of the Interior.

Portugal beefed up its wildfire response over the winter after 109 people died last year in forest blazes amid a severe drought.

Vitor Vaz Pinto, the Civil Protection Agency's district commander, said the weather forecast around Monchique was "unfavourable", with a gusting wind from the north, known as a "nortada".

Temperatures were forecast to reach 35C (95F) - normal for August in southern Portugal. The Iberian Peninsula endured scorching heat last weekend, with temperatures in some areas exceeding 45C (113F).

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