Thousands of volunteers planted trees in Portugal’s oldest forest, burned by last year’s devastating fires. Around 3,000 volunteers planted some 67,500 pine trees in the Leiria forest in central Portugal on Sunday.
Cidalia Ferreira, mayor of Marinha Grande, a municipality in the Leiria district, pointed out that this first effort was only the beginning of an ambitious reforestation project.
” We lost 80% of the Leiria pine forest in the fires, a great task awaits us: reforestation will require the planting of some 22 million trees ,” Ferreira said, according to AFP.
Forty-nine people died after hundreds of fires spread across central and northern Portugal in October. The flames were fanned by strong north winds from Hurricane Ophelia and exacerbated by the region’s unusually hot and dry summer.
Those fires followed the June fires that killed 64 people, the deadliest in the country’s history.
” We are facing new climatic conditions ” due to climate change, Portuguese Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa said in October, also referring to the fires that were occurring simultaneously in California. ” In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming a reality around the world .”
Portugal’s fires in 2017 burned a record 520,000 hectares of forest – some 52 times the size of Lisbon – and accounted for almost 60% of the total area burned across the European Union.
Sunday’s government-led initiative to replant the 800-year-old forest was supported by volunteers, military, police and fire personnel. The wood from the famous Leiria forest was used to build sailboats during the Portuguese navigations between the 15th and 17th centuries.
“We will rebuild this pine forest, to make it beautiful and so that our children will have fresh air to breathe in the future. That is what motivates me , “volunteer José Dyonisio told AFP.