Thursday, June 22, 2017

Deadly Portugal Forest Fire Largely A Man-Made Tragedy.

A huge forest fire in Portugal has killed at least 64 people
I'm sure most of you are horrified by the news out of Portugal last weekend, when a huge forest fire in the central part of that nation killed more than 60 people.

Lots of observers are saying that the disaster was at least in part man-made.

The Portugal forest fire hit during a spell of extremely hot, dry weather, the kind of conditions that climate change and global warming tend to encourage.

There's that, but an even bigger reason for the Portugal disaster has an even more direct line to what humans did.

As the BBC and many other media outlets note,  eucalyptus trees had a lot to do with this.

I'll let the BBC explain:

"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 the paper industries in the mid-20th Century.

It is one of the most profitable trees, but ecologists say eucalpytus sucks up rare groundwater and is bad for native plants 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." 

On top of all that, a lot of forest in Portugal is privately owned, and much of it isn't managed well. Plenty of underbrush, dead branches and other fuels accumulated in the forests, and that contributed to the fire's intensity as well.

Worst of all, a person might have started the fire. Initially, it was thought that lightning struck a tree during a "dry thunderstorm" sparking the blaze.

But there are now reports that the forest fire was already going gang busters when the lightning struck. The thunderstorm winds might have fanned the flames, but an arsonist might have started the fire ahead of time..

We always hear of "natural disasters" as being "an act of God." and there's nothing we can do about it.

To an extent, that's true, as we can't prevent every storm, every drought, every heat wave, every hurricane, every tornado.

However, every disaster death toll is made worse by something we could have done better. Hindsight is always 20-20, but when people die in a weather calamity, it's always useful to figure out why people died and how we can prevent deaths the next time.

Because there's always a next time.

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