Wildfires Trap 2,000 Villagers in Portugal


LISBON (AFP) – Forest fires cut off a village of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggled Thursday to control two major blazes in the centre of the country, local officials said.

“It’s impossible to leave or to enter Macao because of the flames and the smoke,” Vasco Estrela, the mayor of Macao village, told the Lusa news agency.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, grew stronger through Wednesday and by the small hours of Thursday morning had surrounded the village, he said, adding: “The fire is continuing unabated.”

Already at the end of July, a major fire had destroyed between 80 and 90 percent of the village, he said.

The emergency services have already had to evacuate around 130 people from nearby villages, said Patricia Gaspar, spokeswoman for Portugal’s civil protection agency the ANPC.

But firefighters were most worried about the fires around Macao which were continuing to advance on several fronts, she added.

Their hope was that firefighting aircraft, which could not be used at night, might tip the balance in their favour.

But firefighters were worried about the hotter weather forecast, which increased the risk that old fire sites would rekindle or new fires would break out in the coming days, said Gaspar.

– A lethal summer –

Firefighters and locals were struggling meanwhile to master fires in nearby villages, including Vale de Abelha, AFP journalists at the scene reported.

Already this month, this latest wave of fires has injured 86 people, seven of them seriously.

This year’s fires were the deadliest the country has endured.

Wildfires in mid-June near Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others.

The flames spread so fast that many people died trapped in their cars, caught in the fires as they tried to drive to safety.

As well as the loss of life, the fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares so far this year, civil protection officials said Wednesday, citing provisional figures.

The exceptional heat and dry conditions, coupled with strong winds, helped explain the scale of the destruction, said Rui Esteves, commander of the ANPC.

Police meanwhile say they have arrested 61 suspected arsonists.

Firefighters have had to tackle a little over 10,000 separate fires so far this year — 2,500 more than at the same period in 2016.

And after the lethal fires in June, Portugal has now had to call in international help to battle the forest fires for the second time this summer.

Over the weekend, Spain sent 120 firefighters, 27 engines and three firefighting planes to help bolster the exhausted Portuguese teams — part of a European Union programme of mutual aid in emergencies.

Morocco too sent has one its firefighting planes to help.

The lethal fires in June led to a debate in Portugal about management of the forests and the need for an overhaul of the emergency response plan in the forest regions.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.