Portugal's firefighters gain upper hand in forest blazes

Portugal's firefighters gain upper hand in forest blazes

Seven regions of Portugal are on fire alert Monday because of the dry weather and high temperatures
Seven regions of Portugal are on fire alert Monday because of the dry weather and high temperatures. (Photo: AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA)

LISBON: Hundreds of Portuguese firefighters aided by overnight rain gained the upper hand against massive wildfires raging in a central region for four days and said they hoped to bring them under control on Tuesday (Jul 23).

The blazes have ripped through the heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200km north of Lisbon, scorching large areas and leaving a trail of blackened destruction.

"It has been a constant effort. Let's see if we can finish the job this morning," commander Luis Belo Costa of Portugal's civil protection agency told a news conference.

"The work carried out throughout the night has born its fruits," he said, adding that firefighters had managed to stop the advance of the flames in hard-to-reach areas.

The centre of Portugal is hilly and covered in dense forest and is regularly ravaged by fires
The centre of Portugal is hilly and covered in dense forest and is regularly ravaged by fires AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

At least 7,000 hectares have so far been scorched, according to the EU's European Forest Fire Information System.

Light rains overnight raised air humidity levels, aiding the battle against the blazes.

But Costa warned winds were expected to pick up in the afternoon and scorching temperatures were once again forecast, which could complicate the task.

Portugal's civil protection agency had said on Monday morning the wildfires were "90 per cent controlled", but strong winds revived the flames in the afternoon.

The mayor of Vila de Rei in the Castelo Branco region said "unfortunately terror returned once
Map of Castelo Branco in Portugal. (Image: AFP/Paz PIZARRO)

More than 1,200 firefighters were still deployed to fight the blazes, the agency said on its website on Tuesday.

Thirty-nine people including several firefighters have been injured since the wildfires broke out on Saturday, with most suffering smoke inhalation, it added.

A farmer who sustained serious burns as he tried to protect his tractor from the flames was evacuated to a Lisbon hospital on Sunday.

Authorities are looking into whether the fires may have been started deliberately
Authorities are looking into whether the fires may have been started deliberately AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Around 30 people have been injured in the blaze which broke out on Saturday amid scorching
Around 30 people have been injured in the blaze which broke out on Saturday amid scorching temperatures AFP/PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

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.

Source: AFP/jt

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