Following wildfires near Cascais last month, Portugal is once again being hit by raging flames.
This time, blazes have broken out near the popular holiday region of the Algarve in southern Portugal.
The fire started on Saturday 5 August in the Odemira area north of the Algarve, and since then has swept south.
Some 800 firefighters have been brought in to tackle the flames, while more than 1,400 people have so far been evacuated from their homes.
Around 6,700 hectares of land have already been destroyed by the blaze, which has been difficult to control amid soaring temperatures and high winds.
The situation is “critical, difficult and complex”, according to Odemira’s mayor, Helder Guerreiro.
“The weather conditions we are going to experience in the coming days means any small occurrence (fire) could become a big one,” Civil Protection secretary of state Patricia Gaspar told a news conference.
If you’re booked to travel to Portugal, is it still safe to go? And what are your rights if you cancel a holiday? Here’s what we know so far.
Where is affected by the wildfires?
The main wildfire is in the municipality of Odemira, in the Alentejo region on Portugal’s west coast. Since then it has been moving south, and has now spread to the interior woodland of the Algarve.
Some roads in the area have been blocked off, while 19 villages, four tourist accommodations and a camp site have been evacuated.
Three districts in the country – Braganca, Castelo Branco and Guarda – are currently on red alert for extreme heat, while more than half of the country has been put on maximum alert for wildfires by Portuguese weather agency IPMA.
“It is a worrying situation,” Civil Protection commander Jose Ribeiro told reporters during a morning briefing, adding there were two active fronts, with one heading to Monchique, a lush green mountainous area in the Algarve’s countryside.
Monchique, which last burned in 2018, is popular among locals and tourists due to its thermal springs and hotels.
The UK’s Met Office has also issued a weather update across Spain, Portugal and Africa as wildfires rage across some of Portugal’s most popular tourist hotspots.
“Temperatures have increased across Spain, Portugal and North Africa in recent days, widely into the mid 30s C, if not into the low to mid 40s C”, the Met Office’s statement, released via X, read.
“The heat is expected to extend further north and east by midweek, before temperatures return closer to average by the weekend.”
Is it safe to travel to Portugal?
On Monday (7 August), Portugal’s minister of internal administration confirmed that “for now” the government will not declare an alert as wildfires spread across parts of the south.
“Either because of the response of the (teams), or because of the number of fires, or because of the change that seems to be positive in the movement of winds – and also because there has been, from yesterday to today, a relative replacement of nocturnal humidity, for now the alert situation will not be ordered,” minister José Luís Carneiro told reporters yesterday, Portugal Resident reports.
The UK Foreign Office (FCDO) advice on Portugal has not been updated to reflect the latest fires; its standard advice reads: “Forest fires can occur anywhere in Portugal. Risk of fires is higher when the weather is hot and dry. Fires have become more common due to drought and high temperatures.
“Forest fires are highly dangerous and unpredictable. The Portuguese authorities may evacuate areas and close roads for safety reasons. You should:
- familiarise yourself with local safety and emergency procedures
- follow the advice of the Portuguese authorities
- call the emergency services on 112 if you see a wildfire
“Starting a forest fire, even if it is by accident, is illegal in Portugal.”
No holidays to Portugal appear to have been cancelled by travel companies at this time.
Can I cancel my holiday to Portugal?
It depends on the kind of holiday you have booked and where you are due to travel.
If you have booked a package holiday through a tour operator to an area in the fire-impacted Odemira municipality, you may be able to cancel and receive a refund or rebook for free “in the event of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances occurring at the place of destination or its immediate vicinity which significantly affect the performance of the package, or the carriage of passengers to the destination” (as per the Package Travel Regulations).
The key term here is “significantly affect”: if the travel company can still get you there and the hotel is unaffected by the wildfires, they are not required to refund you if you choose to cancel the holiday.
If you’ve booked travel and accommodation separately, rebooking flights in many cases costs as much as buying a whole new ticket.
Cancellation costs incurred also won’t be covered by your travel insurance in the vast majority of cases, as the FCDO has not issued an advisory against all “non-essential” travel to Portugal.