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Portuguese ex-firefighter jailed for starting 2016 forest fires

A Portuguese former firefighter has been sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison for having started forest fires in central Portugal last year, a regional court announced Tuesday.

He was found guilty of arson for igniting nine fires between July and September 2016 in the Castelo Branco region with its forests of eucalyptus trees, which are particularly flammable.

The biggest blaze in the town of Proenca-a-Nova burned 950 hectares (nearly 2,350 acres) of forest causing “a considerable risk to people and properties,” the judges said.

Sizzling temperatures and high winds have repeatedly stoked forest fires in Portugal during the summer months.

In June this year a fire in central Pedrogao Grande that raged for five days left 64 people dead, most of the victims killed in their cars as they tried to escape the flames.

In July a 24-year-old man got 14 years in jail for starting a fire that left three people dead on the Portuguese island of Madeira in August 2016.

Since the beginning of 2017, authorities say there have been 137 suspected arson fires in Portugal, more than double the total last year.