Portugal: Portuguese firefighters battle blazes as southern Europe sizzles

Portuguese firefighters battle blazes as southern Europe sizzles

Source: TerraDaily, July26, 2004 

LISBON(AFP) Jul 26, 2004

Hundreds of firefighters continued to battle against wildfires in Portugal on Monday after scorching weekend weather triggered blazes across southern Europe.

More than 1,100 firefighters were battling some 20 blazes which raged in 14 of Portugal’s 18 regions as temperatures soared above 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit) across much of the country for the third consecutive day.

Firefighters were also trying to bring a dozen fires under control in neighboring Spain reports said, where four people have died as a result of a heatwave, while the fire risk remained extremely high in already hard-hit southern France.

One Portuguese fireman suffered serious burns and a fire truck was destroyed by flames near the central town of Castelo Branco, news agency Lusa reported.

There were no other reports of injuries in any of the fires.

More than 200 firefighters alone were at the scene of the largest blaze which was burning on the Serra da Arrabida mountain range some 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of Lisbon.

It first broke out at the popular weekend get-away on Sunday, prompting the evacuation of three nearby beaches and two camp sites, but was considered put out early Monday.

Just after noon on Monday however the blaze restarted prompting police to once again evacuate the three beaches because the wind-fueled flames were moving towards the Atlantic ocean, firefighters said.

The fire has destroyed more than 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of land, including a large part of a protected area which is rich in Mediterranean plants and birds, the mayor of the nearby city of Setubal told state television RTP.

“Watching this mountain burn is seeing a unique spot in the world burn,” Carlos de Sousa said.

Meanwhile Spanish firefighters were battling 12 blazes, including seven which broke out on Monday in the southern province of Huelva, Spanish television network Telecinco reported.

Weather forecasters said the heatwave gripping Spain and Portugal is set to last until at least Wednesday.

Four people have died as a result of the high temperatures sweeping parts of Spain in recent days, local officials said.

Wildfires in parts of southern France have also burned nearly 2,900 hectares of land over the weekend and forced the evacuation of some 2,000 residents.

While firefighters, aided by water-dropping aircraft, have managed to bring the blazes under control there, French officials warned the region is at risk of suffering more fires.

“This is a dry summer, like we have every five or 10 years,” said fire expert Yvon Duche of France’s national forests office.

Officials in France and Portugal believe many of the fires were started deliberately.

French police on Monday issued an appeal for witnesses who may have seen suspicious activity in the region before the fire erupted to come forward.

According to Portuguese forestry officials, the area of land ravaged by fire in the country as of July 18 since the start of the year had already exceeded that of 2003 during the same period.

“The hell has returned,” several Portuguese newspapers commented on Monday.

In 2003, 20 people died, about 100 homes were destroyed and more than 400,000 hectares of forest and undergrowth were destroyed or damaged by the flames. 


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