The deaths of over 60 people, including children, attempting to evacuate wildfires currently burring in central Portugal, brings the challenge of wildfire into a very harsh perspective. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who passed away and all effected by these fires.
Over 60 separate fires across central Portugal began Saturday night, as persistent dry weather, high winds, and very high temperatures generated dry thunder storms with lightning strikes. The majority of reported deaths are related to forest fires around Pedrógão Grande in the Leiria district in central Portugal.
Video from BBC Weather explains the conditions currently faced in Portugal, with high temperatures on Monday at 43 Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit). Similar weather conditions are expected through Thursday.
The rising impact of hotter and dryer conditions effecting denser fuel loads with residents in harm’s way is hard to ignore. Wildfires are burning differently then we have come to expect and plan for with preparedness and operations. Recent fires of 2017 in Chile, Ireland, South Africa, here in the US in Florida and California, and now in Portugal all highlight the challenges faced by a changing climate and shifting “fire seasons”.
Areas that previously did not think of “wildfire”, like Southern England, are now recognizing the risks of a warming and drying climate against environments and vegetation that are becoming more fire prone.
We have become more aware of this climate challenge in the context of wildfire as we work with our international wildfire partners in Canada, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, and Australia for instance.
NFPA hosted a research workshop with these international partners at the annual NFPA conference in Boston in early June. Two of the common themes that came out of the workshop are that wildfire is, uniquely, an evolving and growing hazard amongst fire risk threats; and all of its contributing and impacting factors on upward trends.
The proceedings of this workshop will be released soon and the impacts of climate change on wildfire behavior and response will no doubt grow in influence going forward. The tragic events in Portugal over the weekend and today are a stark reminder of this evolving risk and the wildfire preparedness work still to come.
Three days of national mourning have been declared in Portugal from Sunday. As these fires continue to burn, we hope for the safety of residents and responses alike, and their recovery.
Photo credit: Portugal fire - three days of mourning declared - The Portugal News pulled 19 June 2017