Sunday, June 18, 2017

At least 62 killed in forest fire still raging in Portugal

My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

Sun Jun 18, 2017 12:34pm EDT
By Rafael Marchante and Andrei Khalip

PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal (Reuters) - A huge forest fire raging since Saturday in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, most of them dying in their cars as they tried to flee, the government said on Sunday,

"The dimension of this fire was such that we don't have memory of such a human tragedy," Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in Pedrogao Grande, the mountainous region about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

Most victims were caught in their vehicles on the road while fleeing flames that were destroying their homes. The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which has fanned the flames.

The prime minister said the emergency services acted as fast as they could but acknowledged that some of the efforts like alerting the population might have been hindered because the blaze had ruined phone lines and communications towers.

"What happened was cables and communications towers were destroyed by the fire, even their first replacements melted," he said. "But nothing compromised the firefighting efforts."


More than 600 firefighters were still battling the flames on Sunday. Several local highways were shut for safety reasons. [Just now heard on the radio more than 1700 firefighters are battling this fire.]

The authorities said very low smoke clouds prevented helicopters and fire planes dropping water on the flames efficiently for most of the day.



The head of Portugal's judiciary police told reporters the fire was started by natural causes.
"We have been able to determine that the origin of the fire was caused by dry thunderstorms," José Maria Almeida Rodrigues said, according to the Portuguese state-run news agency Lusa.



Portugal, where summer wildfires are common, has been experiencing a heat wave for several days, with temperatures climbing above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius.


“We know fire behavior has changed and continues to change, yet we continue to be surprised every time, when we shouldn’t be,” said Don Whittemore, a former assistant fire chief in Colorado who has studied wildfire behavior. “The notion that firefighters will be able to put out, suppress or make safe a wildfire is becoming less and less of a reliable notion.”


A dry thunderstorm is a thunderstorm that produces thunder and lightning, but most or all of its precipitation evaporates before reaching the ground,[1] and dry lightning is the term which is used to refer to lightning strikes occurring in this situation.

[It sounds like global warming will increase the occurrence of dry thunderstorms, and thus wild fires caused by lightning, because the precipitation will evaporate before reaching the ground.]


Suzanne Goldenberg
Thursday 13 November 2014

Lightning strikes will increase due to climate change

[I'll make a separate post about the increase in lightning strikes from global warming.

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