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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 15 September, 2019
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Winds revive Portugal wildfires as over 30 people injured by the flames

Seven regions of Portugal have been on fire alert today because of the dry weather and high temperatures.

Portugal Wildfires Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire near Colos village, in central Portugal today Source: Sergio Azenha via PA Images

WINDS HAVE REVIVED wildfires in the Castelo Branco region of Portugal, as over 30 people have now been injured by the flames.

Portugal’s civil protection agency had said this morning the wildfires, which initially broke out on Saturday, were “90% controlled”.

However, officials have said they were reactivated when winds picked up in the afternoon.

“During the morning it was practically controlled but weather conditions did not allow a consolidation of the situation,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa told journalists.

Spain has sent two heavy amphibious aircraft to help fight the blazes.

Nearly 1,300 firefighters backed by 17 water-dropping aircraft have been deployed to fight the blazes in the heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres northeast of the capital Lisbon.

Portugal Wildfires About 1,800 firefighters were struggling to contain wildfires in central Portugal yesterday Source: Sergio Azenha via PA Images

A firefighter and a emergency services worker were injured today, the civil protection agency said, bringing to 32 the number of people hurt by the flames.

Most suffered smoke inhalation but a civilian was evacuated to a Lisbon hospital with serious burns.

The European Union has said it was willing to offer aid as well if Lisbon asked.

While a number of small villages have been evacuated as a precaution, officials said they still did not know how many homes were damaged.

Authorities are looking into whether the fires may have been started deliberately as several blazes broke out at roughly the same time near each other, Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita said yesterday.

Police said a 55-year-old man had been arrested in Castelo Branco suspected of setting a fire on the outskirts of the town, though this one was far from the main infernos.

Portugal Wildfires A helicopter takes water at the Vergancinho dam to extinguish a wildfire near the Colos village Source: Sergio Azenha via PA Images

‘Strong cocktail’

The centre of Portugal is hilly and covered in dense forest and is regularly ravaged by fires, including the deadliest in the country’s history when 114 people died in two separate blazes in June and October 2017.

Much of the population in the area is elderly, as young people move to the cities.

The forests are largely eucalyptus, a highly flammable wood used in the paper industry. 

Despite the combustion risks, the trees are planted because they are fast-growing and a major source of income for locals.

With fields and pastures abandoned, the forests are poorly maintained, and the dense undergrowth facilitates the spread of the fires. 

Portugal Wildfires More than 1,000 firefighters battled today in torrid weather against a major wildfire Source: Sergio Azenha via PA Images

Climate change has become another factor, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers, Portugal’s civil protection agency commander Pedro Nunes told a news conference. The peak fire season, which used to run from July to September, now starts in June and ends in October.

This, combined with the huge amount of “combustible material” in the country’s forests, has created a “very strong cocktail to generate wildfires with enormous releases of energy”, he said.

Seven regions of Portugal have been on fire alert today because of the dry weather and high temperatures.

According to the EU’s European Forest Fire Information System, more than 620,000 acres of land was destroyed by fire across Europe between January and April this year, compared with 181,000 hectares recorded for the entire fire season in 2018. 

Includes reporting by © AFP 2019  

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