Reports about the death of a British pilot in a plane fighting Portuguese forest fires have turned out to be false. A rescue chopper and ambulances were mobilised after reports a plane fighting the fires had crashed.
A loud explosion was heard in the hills where the aircraft crashed, around six miles from the Pedrogao Grande region where firefighters are battling the wildfire.
However, it appeared that no British pilot had been killed and there and there had been no crash.
The official death toll from the fire currently stands at 64, half of whom have been identified, while another 157 people were injured.
Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manha, which initially reported the death of an English pilot in a crash on its website, admitted last night it was a ‘false alarm’.
The admission after authorization all the firefighting planes involved in the operation to wrestle the deadly forest fires had been accounted for.
Civil Protection chief Vitor Vaz Pinto said exploding gas containers in an abandoned caravan could have sparked the plane crash reports.
Initial reports were that the aircraft that had crashed was Spanish and that it had come down near the village of Louriceira but the country’s Ministry of Defense said it didn’t lose a plane.
Maria Jose Andre, from Portugal’s Air Accident Office, said her office immediately sent an investigation team to the area but has no details about the plane or its crew.
Officials with the Portuguese government and the Civil Protection Agency also could not confirm the crash.
On Tuesday, 1,150 firefighters and nearly 400 vehicles were still battling the fires, helped from the air by water-bombing planes including some sent from France, Italy and Spain.
Press reports suggested that the fire plan had not been gone through for four years and there were communications problems while trying to contain the fire. Portugal’s Publico newspaper said that while the fire plan was meant to be revised every two years, in recent years lawmakers had not considered it a priority.
Climate change expert Joao Camargo pointed to the industrial-scale planting of eucalyptus, which is highly inflammable, in comments to Publico.
‘These last decades, we have seen a rise in the frequency of forest fires’ in Portugal, more than in Mediterranean countries, he said.
‘This can’t be nobody’s fault,’ said Helder Amaral of the rightwing opposition People’s Party (CDS) in a Facebook post.
‘It is not enough for the president of the republic to kiss it better. Saying there is nothing to be done is not enough,’ he said.
Nearly 26,000 hectares (64,250 acres) of forest have already been destroyed by the fires, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.