Portuguese wildfires: Wind change sends smoke over Algarve tourist spots

Fire crews on high alert as temperatures soar and conditions become more favourable for blazes

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Firefighters in Portugal made progress in bringing wildfires under control on Wednesday.

Aided by falling temperatures and increased humidity along the coast, authorities are finally managing to slow the spread of the fires, marking a crucial turning point in a summer marked by recurring heatwaves and intense blazes.

A change in wind direction has caused smoke-filled air to blanket tourist destinations in Portugal, causing alarm as many fled.

The National Civil Protection Service reported on Wednesday morning that more than 1,100 firefighters had been sent to an area near Odemira – a town in the Portuguese region of Alentejo – along with 360 vehicles and 14 aircraft, in a concerted effort to combat the flames.

Spain's meteorological authorities have issued warnings that the country's average temperature may reach a 70-year high. The intense summer heat, which saw temperatures soaring to 44.4ºC in southern Portugal on Tuesday, is complicating firefighting efforts in the region.

Debby Burton, a volunteer who runs the “forest fires alert” page on Facebook, has been closely monitoring the fires and noted significant concerns regarding the wind's direction on Wednesday. She lives in Silves, 60km away from the Algarve.

“The winds have changed direction today so we're experiencing more and more smoke-filled air,” she told The National.

“Some people are worried that this means the fires are raging closer.”

Holiday operators say 'no impact' to Portugal packages

Package holiday providers and airlines that operate in Portugal remain committed to their schedules despite the raging wildfires in the region.

No cancellations have been announced, although some companies have stated that they are keeping a close watch on the situation.

British Airways Holidays said in a statement: “Our closest hotel is approximately 60km from the fires, and we are constantly monitoring and assessing the fires with our global teams.”

For tourists considering cancelling their trips to Portugal, it is worth noting that refunds are not guaranteed.

Since the UK’s Foreign Office has not issued advisories against travel to the country, tour operators and airlines are unlikely to cancel or refund holidays.

Should people choose not to travel due to the wildfires, airlines are not obliged to refund customers, as these circumstances are outside of the airline’s control.

Firefighting efforts continue despite heatwave

As temperatures soar to staggering heights, exceeding 40ºC in some regions, the wildfires in Portugal have led to significant evacuations, rescue efforts and the destruction of thousands of hectares.

Three major fires have been raging across the country, with two big main fires affecting the areas of the north and west of the Algarve and Alentejo.

The northern fire is under control, but the situation continues to be tense in the west.

At least 1,500 people have been evacuated from homes, campsites and holiday resorts due to the escalating fires.

The city of Odemira has been one of the hardest-hit areas, with the flames covering a perimeter of about 50km and burning more than 10,000 hectares.

So far, 36 people have been rescued in the area and eight have been taken to hospital. A hotel has also been destroyed and the fire has reached Algarve territory.

Thousands forced to flee wildfires in Portugal

Thousands forced to flee wildfires in Portugal

Volunteers on the ground share their experiences

“Evacuations are taking place and are not taken lightly. If a village is in the path of a fire, everyone is evacuated,” Ms Burton said.

“Evacuations usually happen overnight but the residents and tourists are allowed back the next day when there is less risk.”

She also noted that this year's fires are 25 per cent less than usual, possibly due to increased awareness and cautious management of the land. However, she pointed out that drought is hindering firefighting efforts.

As firefighters and volunteers continue their efforts to contain the blaze, the uncertainty of the wind's impact brings a new layer of complexity to an already demanding situation.

Monitoring the wind patterns and reacting swiftly to changes is crucial to the continuing efforts to protect communities and natural landscapes from the devastating effects of the wildfires.

Public support has been vital during the wildfires, with citizens donating supplies to firefighters and assisting in animal evacuations.

Edie Weeds runs a small animal shelter and has been supporting animal evacuation efforts.

“Every year when the fires start in the summer we go moving animals, mostly horses/dogs to safe places offered by the Algarve residents out of the way of the fires' path,” she told The National.

She spoke about the continuing co-operation between firemen, police, councils and people like herself, who help in moving the animals to safety.

Ms Weeds highlighted the challenges they face and the chaos when people leave evacuation until the last moment, especially when animals panic due to the proximity of the fires.

She also praised the fire crews coming from all over the country but lamented the lack of proper pay, equipment and support for them.

“The firemen don't always have the best equipment, a lot is hand-downs from other EU countries,” she added.

Extreme weather continues to rage in Europe

Extreme weather, including wildfires in Greece and a cyclone in northern France, has been creating havoc across Europe, a phenomenon scientists attribute to climate change.

Authorities in southern Norway are considering the controlled demolition of part of a dam at risk of bursting after days of heavy rain caused flooding and landslides, leading to evacuations and at least one death in the region.

The Glama, Norway's most voluminous river, has caused the Braskereidfoss hydroelectric power plant to become submerged and has halted operations, leading to considerations of a controlled explosion to manage water flow.

As Storm Hans continues to batter parts of Scandinavia, more than 600 people have been evacuated and major roads have been closed, prompting officials to describe the situation as a “crisis of national dimensions”.

The situation in Portugal is being mirrored in Spain, where firefighters are struggling to control wildfires near the Portuguese border.

Updated: August 09, 2023, 3:11 PM