Portugal forest fires continue spreading

Portugal forest fires continue spreading

23 August 2005

publishedby www.eitb24.com


Vitor Silva, head of the fire-fighting volunteers of Coimbra, said that because of the severe drought in most of Portugal, this year’s fires were worse than in 2003.

Water-dumping aircraft from around Europe battled on Tuesday to help drought-hit Portugal contain raging forest fires that have killed at least 14 people.

Fire fighters and soldiers evacuated small hamlets as the fires burned out of control.

Three German Puma helicopters, carrying water, flew in to help but were unable to fly during the night.

France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have also sent aircraft to help douse the flames, after Portugal’s government asked the European Union for help at the weekend.

Miranda do Corvo was one of the worst hit areas on Tuesday, when around 2,300 fire fighters fought a dozen blazes in central and northern Portugal.

Fire services said it was one of the worst forest fire seasons in decades.

Miranda is near the ancient university city of Coimbra, about 180 km (110 miles) north of Lisbon.

In Foz do Caneiro, a small village in the region, worried residents watched as two helicopters hovered over the Mondego River to collect water, then roared off to battle nearby fires.

“It was an inferno here yesterday, we were surrounded by fire. We’re still scared that the fires will flare up again and reach us,” Dorinda Veiga, a middle-aged woman, told Reuters.

Death toll 14

Lusa news agency reported that least 14 people had died during forest fires this year, 10 of them fire fighters.

A civilian was killed on Monday when he was struck by a fire truck while helping tackle a blaze.

Fire fighters also found the burnt body of an elderly woman but it was unclear if the flames had killed her, Lusa said.

Vitor Silva, head of the fire-fighting volunteers of Coimbra, said that because of the severe drought in most of Portugal, this year’s fires were worse than in 2003.

“There is no flammable material that can resist going up in flames in this drought,” Silva said. “I have done this for 30 years and it only gets worse, fire fighters are dying.”

The forest service estimated last week that about 134,500 hectares (337,000 acres) had burned this year, well above the annual average since 1980.

Companies and government officials say it is too early to estimate the cost of the fires, which have destroyed dozens of homes and damaged hundreds of farms. The Agriculture Ministry said the damage was not bad enough for Portugal to draw on the EU Solidarity Fund, used in cases of natural disaster.

For access, damage must top 3 billion Euro or 0.6 percent of GDP – about 800 million Euro. 


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