Much of the area in flames is dominated by eucalyptus, an Australian species introduced to Europe in the 18th Century but which really boomed in Portugal with the rise of paper industries in the mid-20th Century.
It is one of the most profitable trees, but ecologists say eucalyptus sucks up rare groundwater and is bad for native plant and animal life.
The sap-rich tree that now covers large parts of central and northern Portugal is also highly flammable.
Eucalyptus lined route N-236, where 47 people died in their cars while trying to flee.
Dave de Basque wrote: Burra, I've really appreciated your photos of past wildfires in your area showing how fires stopped at the border of eucalypt forest and a permie-style farm. Very inspiring!
“Our climate is like California. It’s normal to have fires here. But with the introduction of eucalyptus, they have lots of material to burn,” said João Branco, with the Portuguese environmental group Quercus. Its name is Latin for “oak,” a native tree the group is lobbying to have planted instead of eucalyptus.
Native oaks and laurels are more resistant to fires, but eucalyptus trees burn faster and hotter, making wildfires harder to control. The Portuguese government has pledged to ban new eucalyptus plantations, but the law has not yet been finalized.
“The government was negligent. This was a predictable fire, because it’s very well known in Portugal, the problem of eucalyptus and its connection to fires,” Branco said. “Everybody knew this could happen. It was a matter of time.”
Tiny Portugal is one of the most heavily forested countries in Europe, and suffers more wildfires than its larger neighbors. Last summer, Portugal was home to half of the total acreage lost to wildfires across the European Union. Most of the land is privately owned, not managed by the government.
Burra Maluca wrote:I wouldn't rely on being safe though - I've seen places where the fire has jumped quite a long way. It would only take a fairly small bit of burning twig to be carried over your property and land in the wrong place to cause major problems.
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