Forest fires on the outskirts of Coimbra, central Portugal… Threatened by the flames, the patients and staff of the psychiatric hospital of Portugal’s third-largest city have been moved elsewhere. Twenty-seven of the country’s blazes are officially out of control. Furious citizens are demanding to know why the socialist government did not ask other countries and the EU for help sooner.
With the territory of almost the whole country on maximum, major or moderate alert, why, people are asking, are there around 800 professional fire-men who have not been deployed? The government says it is up to municipalities to mobilise them. Five Canadair aircraft and three heavy helicopters have been promised by France, Germany, Italy and Spain. These are arriving today but will not all be operational immediately.
Of the thousands of people desperately trying to do something against the flames, most are volunteers. At least 13 people have died from the fires in Portugal this year. Paper dry from its worst drought on record, almost 135,000 hectares of the country has already gone up in smoke this year — more than the whole of 2004.