Every year the same scenario arises in Portugal. With summer come the fires, sweeping over a great part of our forest. The figures are undeniable — over 50% of the area ravished by fires in the EU is in Portugal.
What’s Going On
Every year, we place experts in front of cameras to explain the consequences of the disappearance of native oak forests. We debate our decision, which goes back to the Estado Novo regime, to invest in pine tree monocultures, later to be replaced by an overwhelming number of non-native and unbelievably invasive eucalyptus trees imported for the sake of the pulp and paper industry. Some are still used, some are simply abandoned, and all of them are incredibly flammable…and they spread fast.
Every year, forest management and property policies occupy prime-time television with ongoing legislation requirements for maintenance, how none of the previous legislation is being complied with, and of course, the reasons for noncompliance. Riveting stuff.
Every year, we toss around the political responsibilities of these tragedies. Finding a scapegoat is always easier than actually doing something about it.
Services on which the Portuguese civil society depends daily — are mostly provided by volunteers.
To this structural apathy, we must add the cultural: the seldom-discussed circumstances in which our fire brigades operate — 90% of them are volunteers. That’s right, civil protection services provided, from assistance to car crashes, to natural disasters, to forest and urban fires, to patient transport — services on which the Portuguese civil society depends daily — are mostly provided by volunteers.
This fact is explained by a sense of mission deeply rooted in Portuguese culture and mentality. A firefighters’ uprising is a very rare event. It’s an even rarer occurrence to publicly discuss the conditions under which many of these firefighter corporations operate — the very same corporations we watch organize fundraising events, as if they were Boy Scouts who need money to go camping.
Every year, we call these men and women heroes, but we never discuss the fact that being a Voluntary Hero for a country that thanks you with a pat on the back and solidarity chains on Facebook is no kind of compensation.
Until such a catastrophe occurs.
The country stopped, hands down, while televisions showed us a conflagration of unparalleled proportions and consequences. This weekend, we woke up to news of incomprehensible death and destruction: 64 dead, mostly trapped inside their cars as they tried to escape the flames; 157 injured; 30,000 hectares of burnt forest.
As AtlasLisboa goes to press, firefighters are still trying to contain the fires in Pedrógão Grande. And the situation in nearby Góis particularly “worrying,” according to Commander Vitor Vaz Pinto. This isn’t over.
How You Can Help
So while we mourn and try to draw concrete conclusions from this unspeakable tragedy, here are a few ways we can help:
- Food and Supply Donations: Firefighting corporations throughout the country are permanently accepting food donations (water, juice, canned goods, energy bars) and other products (saline solution, sterilized and non-sterile compresses, ointments for burns, etc.). These goods are properly channelled and distributed when needed.
- Solidarity bank accounts: Some people hesitate to donate money, but these funds are pretty safe to support, and you can make the transfers online or at a multibanco.
- União das Misericórdias Portuguesas, and Caixa Económica Montepio Geral – IBAN: PT50 0036 0000 99105922157 78
- Caixa Geral de depósitos – IBAN PT50 0035 0001 00100000330 42
- Novo Banco – IBAN PT50 0007 0000 0034046195023
- Millennium BCP – IBAN PT50 0033 0000 45507587831 05
- Santander Totta – IBAN – PT50001800034483236802039
- Conta Cáritas (Caixa Geral de Depósitos): IBAN PT50 0035 0001 00200000 730 54
- RTP – IBAN PT 50 0035 0001 00100000330 42
- Solidarity Telephone Lines:
- SIC, MEO, NOS and Vodafone – 760 100 100 – 0,60€ (0,60€+IVA).
- RTP – 760 200 600 – 0,60€ (0,60€+IVA) – 0,50€ goes to the victims. We don’t know where the other 0,10€ go.
- Solidarity Shows:
- June 24 | Teatro José Lúcio da Silva | 21:30 | 15€ David Fonseca, Orquestra Jazz de Leiria, Ballet and Dance Academy – Annarella, Omnichord Records, Samp Pousos, Orfeão de Leiria Conservatório de Artes and Fade In – Associação de Ação Cultural.
- June 27 | Meo Arena
Over 20 Artists will come together to play a benefit concert. More information TBA.
Sapo Article: Eucaliptugal O Ecocidio da Floresta Nacional
Público Article: O Que Fazer Para Ajudar Bombeiros e Vitimas
Observador Article: Como e Que e Ser Bombeiro em Portugal