Lessons from Portugal

Last Saturday night,  a devastating wildfire broke out in Portugal. This region is serviced by a winding, mountainous road. 62 people are confirmed dead. The fire started on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning was out of control.


Portugal’s central region continues to burn as firefighters battle a deadly inferno, which has killed at least 62 people to date. Sources say that over half these people died in or around their vehicles as they tried to escape the fire on a windy, mountainous road.

The blaze that erupted in the municipality of Pedrógão Grandeas. Wildfires are very unpredictable, firefighting experts say, especially when high temperatures, low humidity and a particularly dry landscape create a vast tinderbox in large wooded areas.

On the South Coast of Big Sur, one campfire may have started a wildfire on Nacimiento Rd. last week, although the cause of the fire is still under investigation. And Sunday, I found a group of campers having a campfire in the middle of an open dry, grassy field disregarding a large no campfire sign they had passed only about 100 yards before the place they chose to camp.

In only 3 days, we will experience the anniversary of the start of the Basin Fire. June 22, 2008, a series of lightning strikes started several wildfires which became the Basin Fire. People, particularly visitors, were able to evacuate in three directions, north, south, and east. This summer that is not true.

Businesses and Chambers of Commerce all up and down the Central Coast are pushing to allow visitors into the areas of Big Sur that are cut off with the only escape routes being a long and difficult pedestrian only trail from the TapHouse to the State Park, or a very narrow, windy mountainous road over the Santa Lucia’s to the east.

Personally, I am concerned about the advisability of this short-sighted solution given the fire conditions we currently have before the end of June, and what is surely ahead. More people mean we increase the chance of man created wildfire, as well as complicate in dangerous ways any need to evacuate tourists and residents. We are facing potentially, the perfect storm of conditions ripe for a wild fire. Grasses are tall due to the rainy winter, they are dried out, the heat wave has been and will be ongoing. I hope there will be no need to evacuate by any of us, but if there is, can we minimize the danger to those of us trapped between the bridge and Mud Creek? Or will we be facing a massive traffic exodus on a road not designed for that purpose? How will emergency vehicles get here, if the road is filled with fleeing visitors? I think these are serious questions we all need to address, particularly our federal, state, and local representatives and agencies.


There are lessons to be learned from what is happening in Portugal. I hope we can learn them in time.

13 thoughts on “Lessons from Portugal

  1. A very well done and quite welcome perspective. Although the conditions in Portugal are quite different – I spent time in the area which has many different roads criss-crossing it, two years ago – the situation in Big Sur is potentially far worse. Imagine lots of visitors, inexperienced in the wilderness and driving on narrow mountain roads in total panic trying to escape a conflagration with rescue and fire fighters coming in the opposite direction on the same road. Better not to.

  2. Pray for Portugal durning this challenging time.

    I work for the Royal House of Portugal

  3. Thanks, Sterling. I’ve been thinking about this post since yesterday. Was going to save it until tomorrow, but TPTB are having a conference call either today or Wednesday on a related issue, and I want them all to consider this factor in any decisions they decide to imlement.


  4. Sure your dogs and cats have water. You have a real nice web Pages.. How are things up at Partington?

  5. Agree with you, Kate. How can coastal businesses argue for endangering people for the sake of income?

    Re: your cheetah photos, we were in Maasai Mara in December, saw quite a few cheetahs, lions, etc., had a grand time.

  6. My husband and I had this same discussion this morning. Scary.

  7. Have the conversations now. Every agency needs to be involved in your evacuation plans because the combination of dense fuel and limited ingress/egress is a disaster waiting for the right thoughtless visitor to kindle. I am a fire chief. I do it for our people. I believe it should be your number one priority while they are working on the last disaster, Highway 1.

  8. The I mmediate response would hopefully involve heading toward the ocean and staying on the highway. But then what do we do with all these people when they are trapped on the coast and run out of food while their only route out is burning?

  9. I have emailed gov. Brown’s office to have a look at your website regarding this situation – I hope that’s o.k.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.