Fires Devastate Tiny Portuguese Island of Madeira

Madeira Fire Summary

Last week, multiple destructive wildfires scorched the steep mountainsides of Portugal’s famous Madeira Island. Madeira is the largest of an archipelago of four islands (an autonomous region of Portugal), located off the northwest coast of Africa. The fires ignited after weeks of hot and dry weather and quickly spread with strong winds up the steep terrain of the island, forcing hundreds to evacuate in two heavily populated areas. The firefight was complicated by the fact that Madeira has no firefighting aircraft.  Neighboring countries hundreds of miles across the Atlantic lent spare helicopters and a water-scooping aircraft, but those assets took precious time to arrive, and allowed the fires to rage uncontrolled under only a ground attack.

Hasty Evacuations

As the flames bore down late Tuesday (8/9) residents and visitors in areas in the outskirts of Madeira’s capital city, Funchal, fled their homes and hotels in order to escape. Portuguese media had footage of a elderly facility being evacuated in the middle of the night (Tuesday), some with no shoes or in their wheelchairs. Others looked on helplessly as the flames engulfed their homes. Tragically, three elderly residents at that facility were not able to evacuate in time and one other was seriously injured.

Madeira Fire Locations

Estimated Fire Perimeters near Calheta to the west and Funchal to the east


Madeira Fire Aftermath

Many evacuated residents have returned in the past week to find their homes damaged or even destroyed. A reported assessment of the impact found 300 residences affected by the incident with 177 of them completely wiped out. More than just residences were lost, as a well-known hotel–the Choupana Hills–was also one of the casualties. NASA’s infrared images of the fire helped RedZone estimate the acreage at over 18,000 acres (around 7400 hectares).

Long-term Effects

The Madeira fires have impacted the island’s infrastructure and may damage the appeal to the roughly one million tourists who visit the island each year. Cruise ships have had to cancel activities this week in Funchal due to the fire’s impact. Madeira officials have estimated that the fires will cost the island around €61 million ($69 million USD) in repairs in Funchal alone. Cristiano Ronaldo, a native of Funchal and national hero, was devastated by the news and has pledged financial support to his home island in the wake of the devastation.

Madeira Fire Facts

  • Started: Monday, August 8th, 2016
  • Location: Madeira, Portugal
  • Size: 18,822 acres (Estimated using NASA Imagery)
  • Structures Affected: 300
  • Structures Destroyed: 177
  • Evacuations: Hundreds were evacuated
  • News Article: Portugal News


Sources: Portugal News, Wildfire Today, NASA

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply