Home News Portugal battles deadly wildfires with EU help

Portugal battles deadly wildfires with EU help

Published on 04/09/2012

Portuguese firefighters kept up the battle against deadly forest blazes in the north and centre of the country Tuesday as France and Spain sent water-bombing aircraft in response to their call for help.

The European Union agreed to fund the use of the specialised aircraft for 48 hours as Portugal’s emergency services struggled to master the fires, which have already claimed one life.

“For the moment we have what we need,” Interior Minister Miguel Macedo told reporters.

In all Tuesday, 12 forest or brush fires flared up in the north and centre of the country, threatening an estimated 1,700 people living nearby, compared to 3,000 a day earlier.

Around 3,000 firefighters have been brought in to battle a total of about 20 bushfires, some of which broke out on Sunday, as temperatures in the past few days exceeded 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

The central district of Viseu has been worst hit by the fires, with two major blazes flaring up on Monday. Five hundred firefighters were battling those fires.

To back up the professional force, the government said it had cleared civil servants who also serve as volunteer firefighters to take time off their work to join the operation.

But a 54-year-old man was found burnt to death in the village of Urqueira near the central town of Ourem after apparently trying to save his chicken farm, local mayor Paulo Fonseca said, the Lusa news agency reported.

And two people were injured when a Russian-built water-carrying helicopter crashed Monday as it was trying to douse the flames, which have destroyed at least two houses and a factory.

Two firefighters have already lost their lives tackling blazes earlier this summer.

The police meanwhile announced that they had arrested a 55-year-old on suspicion of having started two separate fires on Monday. That brings to 42 the number of people held on suspicion of arson this summer.

Portugal has been in the grip of a severe drought since the start of the year, and fires have destroyed over 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) between January and August, according to The Institute of Conservation and Forestry.