Cancellation of Baja do Pinhal or "what went wrong once again"?
Something must be wrong among decision makers in Portugal, and this late decision to cancel Baja do Pinhal is yet another perfect example of that.
Just a bit of background: Portugal is a country that has a somewhat dark history regarding wildfires, that destroyed not only huge portions of the forest of the country but also people's lives and way of living. Only the ones that already experienced a wildfire in the summer can really understand what this means. In recent years, this have become even a greater problem, with increasingly large and deadly fires across all the country.
The region where the now-cancelled Baja do Pinhal should have been raced has some deep scars of a huge fire that ravaged the region 3 years ago. Already this year, another fire burned some portions that escaped the previous time.
One can say that is due to climate change, which is true, the hotter, longer, and dryer summers are real and are here. All the locals know about it, and some behaviors that once were not dangerous, now are and should be avoided.
But the real causes for the Portuguese "gun powder barrel" are different. The monoculture of either eucalyptus or pine trees covers miles and miles of terrains once occupied by the much more fire-resistant Mediterranean forest. Years of wrong decisions led to the actual situation, where the local flora rich in fauna was replaced by easy burning species and a type of culture that doesn't even allow a single weed to develop under the shade of a quite curious "green desert" near empty of all other types of life.
Another reason can be found in the "human desertification" of the region, with more and more people leaving the area searching for better life opportunities elsewhere, which means that weeds, bushes, and trees grow wild where ever they want in a land once occupied by people.
Yet another reason can be found in many years of government decisions, not investing enough money in equipment for firemen and civil protection services, with many of these structures dealing with a shortage of vehicles and other materials, or if they have them, they are beyond obsolete.
To add to all of this, there is an increasing collective conscience that we should do all to preserve our environment, with constant news on the media, and thousands of posts and comments social media. With such a popular topic, always looks good when an official comes to the media telling that it is doing something to protect the environment.
So, it appears that the Portuguese government took the easy path, simply forbidding all types of activities in forest and rural areas when the conditions are more severe and punishing the ones that dare to do something, even if not dangerous. Decision like the one of today appears like the decision maker doesn't care about anything else. Often officials come to the public showing to the wider audience that they are really doing something and are serious about it, but in reality, they are hiding some flaws of the system.
What is really missing here are safer but harder solutions like prevention and public education, alongside a sensible forest politic that doesn't forbid exotic species like the eucalyptus but prevent and/or regulate its spreading.
Some even say that what the government is protecting is the eucalyptus forest owned by big paper industries and the huge portions of pines trees for the timber industry, not caring much about anything else, and at the same time "appearing good" to the public.
What few say is that events like Baja do Pinhal are a small but important source of income for these regions, mostly poor, with few inhabitants and in need of activities to help them. Motorsports bring people either to enter the race or to see the participants pass. On the days the race hotels are full, restaurants serve dozens of meals and many other businesses get an increase in their activity. And one must not forget that the support provided to the race by local authorities is exponentially multiplied and redistributed by the region in order of magnitude impossible for any mayor or other government structure to replicate.
And everybody knows that racing is not only owning and driving a race car or motorbike, but there are also a lot of business surrounding this activity and in a period of our lives so complicated like this one where Covid-19 is spreading havoc everywhere, including in the economy, to have a chance to do some business and earn a bit of money could be the difference between keeping the activity alive or closing doors and go to unemployment.
Most of the people present at Baja do Pinhal will understand that is better safe than sorry, but what no one understands is how can such a dramatic decision be taken on top of the event, with more than 90% of the participants and organizers already arrived, with many hundreds of thousands of euros spent that are now impossible to recover.
The weather changes, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, but the weather pattern in Portugal for these days didn't changed dramatically from one minute to the other, and if this decision was taken 2 or 3 days before, the damage would not be so big.
There was no fire yet, but the damage is already done by a blind decision. Our opinion is probably not impartial, but we do more things beyond running motorsports websites, and we do know with a fair amount of detail about what is the interior of Portugal and what are its needs and potentialities, and what we can tell is that this decision was just another nail in the coffin of one of the poorest regions of the country.
We aren't owners of the truth, and we should all agree that taking decisions at government level is a complicated task. With this being said, we just hope that the same doesn't repeat in the future and these decisions could be made with a litle bit more information and care about all the ones that are affected.
PS: In a latter development, Escuderia de Castelo Branco announced that the race could take place on 19 and 20 of September, one week after the scheduled date.