Portugal deploys 3,000 firefighters to battle wildfires
Wildfires are sweeping across northern and central Portugal, where an estimated 3,000 firefighters and more than 60 aircraft are battling to quell the flames amid scorching temperatures.
Authorities said 12 firefighters and 17 civilians required medical assistance to treat minor injuries caused by the blazes, Portuguese state television RTP and other local media reported on Sunday.
The European Union on Sunday activated its firefighting air fleet assistance programme that allows member nations to share resources.
Spain, which has also endured wildfires recently, quickly responded by mobilising two firefighting planes to send to its Iberian neighbour, according to EU Crisis Commissioner Janez Lenarcic.
Portugal’s government said it has deployed 60 aircraft to support its ground crews.
Portugal has long suffered large, and sometimes tragic, forest fires. In 2017, out-of-control wildfires killed more than 100 people.
The EU says climate change has the continent facing one of its hardest years for natural disasters such as droughts and wildfires.
State of contingency
Fires have been burning in several areas since last week and nearly 250 new fires were reported to have started on Friday and Saturday.
The government has announced a “state of contingency” from July 11 to 15 – on level beneath the states of calamity and emergency, and Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa has cancelled a planned trip to Mozambique so that he can monitor the fires.
“We are facing an almost unprecedented situation in meteorological terms”, Andre Fernandes, the national commander of civil protection, said on Saturday.
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Portugal has already seen extreme weather this year, with a drought affecting around 28 percent of the country’s territory in June, compared to just one percent in May.
Scientists say climate change is linked to more extreme and more frequent weather events, including heatwaves and forest fires.
The Portuguese Institute for the Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) predicted a gradual increase in temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in some areas of the country this weekend.
The country has adopted restrictions barring public access to forests deemed to be at special risk, banned the use of farm machinery and outlawed fireworks.
Prime Minister Costa, in a message on Twitter, reminded citizens not to light any fires outdoors or use heavy farm machinery that can cause sparks.
“Preventing fires is the best help we can give our firefighters,” he wrote.
In the hamlet of Travessa de Almogadel in central Portugal, pensioner Donzilia Marques was relived to find her house was not damaged as she returned on Sunday after being evacuated the night before.
More than 700 soldiers were dispatched to the area on Sunday after fires destroyed some 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of vegetation, the National Authority for Civil Protection estimated.
“The fire arrived 50 meters (165 feet) from the last house in the village … up there everything burned,” the 76-year-old Marques told AFP, pointing to the hills between her home and the nearby town of Freixianda.