March 25, 2018 / 7:09 PM / a month ago

Portugal volunteers replant trees burnt in devastating wildfire

LEIRIA, Portugal (Reuters) - Volunteers in central Portugal planted 67,500 trees on Sunday in the Leiria pine forest as the country recovers from the most devastating forest fires in its history.

More than 80 percent of the forest burnt in October. Leiria’s trees were used to build ships that sailed in the 15th and 16th century discoveries when Portugal was a leading maritime nation.

Fires struck Portugal in June and October last year and killed 114 people.

“We come from this region, we all used this forest, we had picnics here, this is a place where our families met,” said Alexandra Serodio, one of the organizers of the reforestation effort that attracted more than 3,000 volunteers.

“The fire changed things for us,” Serodio said, adding that Sunday was only a first step as 30 million new trees are needed to fully recover the area destroyed in October.

“This is a good because it (the fire) destroyed our forest and we have to look after it so that it can be reborn,” said Alice Martins, a volunteer.

The volunteers, who were helped by the army and firefighters, planted tree saplings across miles and miles of earth scorched by the fires.

The government has stepped up efforts to prevent a repeat of the fires, especially in the interior where forest fires have become common as land is abandoned. Last year’s fires struck during an unusually dry and hot summer, which caused extreme winds that fanned the flames.

Efforts to fight fires are likely to increase as summer approaches. A key step has been to push landowners to clear their lands of undergrowth which can cause fires.

Last year’s fires destroyed 520,000 hectares of forest in Portugal, nearly 52 times the size of Lisbon, or 60 percent of the total area burnt in the European Union in 2017.

Reporting Reporting by Miguel Perreira; Writing by Axel Bugge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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