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Volunteers Plant 67,500 Trees in Portuguese Forest Devastated by Wildfires

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Three thousand volunteers planted trees in Portugal's famous pine forest. AFP / YouTube

One sapling at a time, thousands of volunteers planted trees in Portugal's oldest forest burned by last year's devastating wildfires.

Around 3,000 volunteers planted roughly 67,500 pine trees in the Leiria forest in central Portugal on Sunday.


Cidalia Ferreira, the mayor of Marinha Grande, a municipality in the Leiria district, noted that the effort was just the beginning of an ambitious reforestation project.

"We lost 80 percent of the Leiria pine forest in the fires, a great task is waiting for us: the reforestation will require the planting of about 22 million trees," Ferreira said, as quoted by AFP.

Forty-nine people died after hundreds of fires spread across central and northern Portugal in October. The flames were fanned by Hurricane Ophelia's strong winds from the north and exacerbated by the region's unusually hot and dry summer.

Those fires came after the ones in June that killed 64 people, the deadliest-ever in the country's history.

"We are facing new (weather) conditions" due to climate change, Portuguese Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa said in October, as she also referenced the fires that were simultaneously burning in California. "In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world."

Portugal's 2017 fires scorched a record 520,000 hectares of forest—about 52 times the size of Lisbon—and represented nearly 60 percent of the total area burnt in the entire European Union.

Sunday's government-led initiative to replant the 800-year-old forest was supported by volunteers, the military, police and fire personnel. Wood from the famous Leiria forest was used to build sailing ships during the Portuguese navigations between the 15th and 17th centuries.

"We will rebuild this pine forest, so that it becomes pretty and so that our children will have clear air to breathe in the future. That is what motivates me," volunteer Jose Dyonisio told AFP.

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