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...
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
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.
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..
next part of story
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 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.