Portuguese Red Cross helps forest fire victims to recover from tragedy

By Nora Peter, IFRC

Communities hit by wildfires in Portugal are beginning to recover, one month after the blazes claimed more than 60 lives and forced hundreds from their homes.

Leiria and Coimbra districts were among those badly affected by the worst fires in Portugal’s history.

The Portuguese Red Cross has been on the ground supporting people since the day of the tragedy and its work continues.

More than 330 volunteers across 39 branches were involved in the emergency response, helping families who saw their homes, businesses and agricultural lands destroyed by the fire. They provided emergency medical care, gave out food and clothes and also provided 25 psychologists and five social workers to support people left devastated by the fires.

The Red Cross is now focusing on disaster prevention through education and community awareness. As older and disabled people living in remote areas are among the most vulnerable, a telephone system that gives people access to 24-hour help in the event of an emergency has been installed in 100 homes.

The Red Cross is also raising awareness of the impact of forest fires on the environment and how the damage caused to trees and agriculture can lead to increased risk of landslides in some areas.

“We cannot stress enough the importance preparing for disasters before they happen,” said Ruben Romero, Disaster Management Coordinator for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Europe.

“Supporting communities to make changes that will reduce the risk and impact of emergencies is something our volunteers prioritise not only in Portugal but across Europe and the world.”

“Knowing what to do and acting fast saves lives.”