The Chronicle of a Fire Foretold

Between the 6th August and 16th September 2003 the worst fires the Algarve has seen for over 10 years devastated 92% of the Sierra de Monchique Mountains..

For over a month during the Summer of 2003, the once haven for tourists and migrating flocks of birds and wildlife was destroyed in a huge fire that swept over the Mountains of Picota and Monchique and which in a rain of terror managed to consume 92% of the shrubland of the Sierra de Monchique, leaving a charred black wasteland that has destroyed plant, animal and insect life for the foreseeable future. It will take years to recover and this article will try to put reason not blame as to what happened and how a small fire on day One was allowed to build to destroy over 44,000 hectares of forest in over 30 days of unpredictable terror...

The Start of  the Fire

6pm Thursday 7th August 2003. Day 1. The temperature is 36o and the first signs of a fire in the Algarve this August are seen at the foothills of Monchique.

The area is covered in Mediterranean bush consisting of Hibiscus, Pine and Eucalyptus all heavy in oils. Cork, Medronho, Almond, Mimosa and Wild gorse with other smaller bushes cover the hills in this corner of the Algarve. A fire here at this time of year is always a cause for concern. The only way into the heart of the bush is by Helicopter and the two worked tirelessly until it was possible for the firemen to get into the heart and use the road ways as a frontier.

By 9.20pm The Fire started deliberately had been brought under control. So far the area covered was about 4sq. Km.

The helicopters have to return to Monchique at dusk and the watch is then taken over by the fire crew.

This leaves the boundary of the fire open to the wind and with thousands of burning stumps laying around it is a certainty that the fire will restart somewhere along this 16/20 km fire front..

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..1.30pm Friday 8th August 2003..Day 2.. The wind has increased and our worst fears are realized as another front opens up. The helicopters are back and with the ground crew they try to stop the spread of the fire. This is a hard task and with a fire in the bush traveling at between 3/7 km per hour without wind; the addition of this factor makes the fire dangerous and unpredictable......

2pm. Friday 8th August 2003. The temperature is 39o and the rear of the fire is taking hold.

The fireman looks on pensivly.........the fire is expanding and as you can see its not an easy task to get in to the heart of the fire....The crew arrive.....This is the rear of the fire......

.....Then there is the front boosted by the wind and traveling up the eucalyptus. One of the major problems with eucalyptus is that when the heat of a fire is built up at the base of the tree the oil inside shoots up the tree culminating in an explosive oil bomb when it gets to the top. This serves to extend the fire, create great heat and is dangerous to fight on foot.

Its left to the helicopters to tackle the front..

 

The thick black oil laden smoke begins to build up in the atmosphere and soon blocks out the sun giving the impression that its nighttime

The most Erie thing about such a huge blaze is the silence except for the whoosh! of the main front and the sound of millions of leaves being incinerated in seconds. Then there's the crickets, thousands of them scurrying away from the flames. There is no other insect or animals and I assume those that can fly get away but there are millions of other smaller insects and wildlife that doesn't stand a chance.

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