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Deadly Portugal wildfires rage anew

Wildfires in Portugal that have killed four emergency workers raged anew on Wednesday as firefighters also battled blazes in neighbouring Spain.

Hundreds of firefighters plus water-dumping aircraft were mobilised in the centre and north of Portugal and in northwestern Spain, authorities said.

In Portugal, 1,100 firefighters were fighting the flames, the civil protection authorities said, with the most dangerous blaze raging on four fronts in the Alvao natural park in the north.

A handful of locals were evacuated from their homes when flames several metres (yards) high raged through a pine forest and threatened the village of Varzea, filling it with black smoke.

Four emergency workers have been killed this month fighting the fires in Portugal.

Firefighters managed to tame other major fires in the centre of the country, but remained on alert due to dry and windy weather, civil protection spokesman Carlos Guerra told AFP.

Near Oliveira de Frades in central Portugal, the flames left forests reduced to charred black tree stumps.

“Everything is burnt. It is the state’s fault. They do not look after the forest,” said one resident, Joao, a local resident who said he spent hours helping the fire service fight the flames.

Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Tuesday that the recession-hit country’s financial difficulties had not reduced its budget for fighting wildfires.

Across the border in Spain, authorities in the northwestern Galicia region said firefighters were tackling a blaze near the village of Ribeira which ravaged 175 hectares (430 acres) of land after breaking out late Tuesday.

Emergency services were also fighting another that started on Monday and has burned 1,200 hectares near the village of Oia on the Atlantic coast, the regional government said in a statement.

Media reports said that people were evacuated due to the Ribeira fire, but local officials were not immediately reachable to confirm this.

The Spanish government said it had sent water-dumping aeroplanes and helicopters to the Ribeira fire and to another in a mountainous region in the western Caceres area.

Spain and Portugal are prone to forest fires in summer because of soaring temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation.

Last year wildfires destroyed some 150,000 hectares of land in Spain from January to July, after one of the driest winters on record.

This year’s winter was wetter, and there have been fewer summer fires so far.

In Portugal almost 31,000 hectares have been destroyed by fire this year, according to its Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.

Portuguese police said they were investigating the causes of the fires and had questioned 47 suspects.