Portugal At least four people are dead, multiple homes destroyed and thousands evacuated after high winds whipped raging infernos in Portugal and on a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Wednesday.
Three elderly people were killed and hundreds injured in Funchal, the capital of Portugals Madeira Islands, after fires swept into the city overnight. Ninety-five miles north of Lisbon on the mainland, a fourth fatality was reported after a forest watchmen died when another blaze engulfed the caravan he was sleeping in.
The Madeira fire forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 residents and tourists in the islands. Residents described chaotic nighttime scenes on Tuesday, with people fleeing the flames by car at high speed on the wrong side of the road.
British vacationer Sophie Sulehria, who arrived in the midst of the fire, described to the BBC abandoning her taxi from the airport as traffic in Funchal was at a standstill.
“At 9:30 in the evening, the streets were completely buzzing with people. Both locals and tourists were hanging around the streets either after they had been evacuated from their hotels and their houses or just because they were unable to get to their destinations.”
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Sulehria told the BBC that, “the feeling amongst the people on the streets was just panic.
People were being sick. So many people were having to cover their mouths because of the smoke inhalation we just didnt know what to do.”
Resident Paulo Freitas, who left the island for a planned vacation Tuesday, told weather.com he was concerned that the smoke would be harmful to his wife, who is currently 8 months pregnant. Freitas, who has lived on the island his entire life, told weather.com that forest fires in the mountains are a common occurrence, but the city has never been burned.
“This is a singular situation, ” he said. “I’m almost 40 years old and have never seen this, it was the first time and hopefully the last time it happens here.”
Though Freitas and his family were on the next island over for their vacation, he said it was perfectly safe for tourists to remain on Madeira.
“It’s a big island. You dont need to go to the sea to get safe, there are many places to go.”
Summer is both the height of tourist season and fire season in Portugal, and this summer has been hot and dry. Firefighters battled multiple blazes fanned by high winds and fed by brush; a full 186 wildfires were counted Wednesday on Portugal’s mainland.
Portugal’s National Civil Protection Service reported 14 major wildfires burning out of control in mainland Portugal where almost 4,500 firefighters were in action in a massive operation, supported by 28 water-dumping aircraft and 1,300 vehicles. Desperate, the government requested help from other European Union countries.
Miguel Albuquerque, head of Madeira’s regional government, told reporters the three local victims died in their burned homes early Wednesday as the wildfire hit the coastal city in the dark. He said two other people were seriously hurt and one person went missing. At least 37 houses and a five-star hotel had burned down.
The Madeira blaze broke out Monday and firefighters said the island’s steep hills and dense woodland made it hard to reach the flames. Albuquerque, the regional government chief, said officials suspect that fire was started deliberately and police have made two arrests.
Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo, a native of the island, has offered financial support to Madeira during a phone call to Albuquerque, The Sun reports.
It is with an aching heart that Im seeing whats happening in Madeira and other parts of the country,” the Real Madrid star said in a Facebook post. “My support goes out with a thank you to all those firefighters who are bravely risking their lives to save so many others. I am with you.