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Portugal hopes cooler temperatures will tame wildfires

Portugal, hit by a third heatwave after weeks of wildfires, said Monday that it hoped cooler temperatures and increased air humidity in the coming days would help tame the blazes.

A current national alert would not be prolonged beyond midnight on Tuesday, “thanks to a significant improvement” in the meteorological conditions, said Interior Minister Jose Luis Carneiro following a meeting with the civil protection services.

According to the forecasts, temperatures are expected to fall and air humidity increase from Wednesday, “to such an extent that we believe it’s possible to review the restrictions, Carneiro said.

Under the national alert announced on Sunday, authorities had restricted access to forests and banned fireworks displays, and also stepped up the state of readiness of the emergency services.

Having only just brought under control a fire that destroyed more than 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres) in the Serra da Estrela national park, civil protection authorities said on Monday that firefighters were tackling another blaze in the central northern Vila Real region.

“According to provisional estimates, this fire has burnt 4,500 hectares,” emergency and civil protection services head Andre Fernandes said of the blaze in a hard-to-access mountainous area.

Two Canadair water bomber planes sent by Greece under the terms of an EU-wide civil protection support mechanism were aiding firefighters’ efforts.

The government issued the alert Sunday after identifying a heightened risk of rural fires as temperatures look set to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) Monday and Tuesday amid an ongoing severe drought.

The latest heatwave comes with Portugal having experienced its hottest July in almost a century.

Since January, the country’s Institute for Nature Conservation and Forests says more than 94,000 hectares of land have been laid waste to in Portugal’s worst forest fires since 2017, when a series of blazes cost dozens of lives.

Portugal last Wednesday finally extinguished a fire which had burnt more than 25,000 hectares of land in the UNESCO-listed central mountainous area of Serra da Estrela, home to diverse wildlife species including wildcats and lizards.

Minister of the Presidency Marina Vieira da Silva said after meeting mayors of affected municipalities that Lisbon was declaring “a state of natural disaster” to allow the release of rapid aid.

The government is also drawing up a “revitalisation plan” for the Serra da Estrela park.

The consensus among scientists is that climate change has increased the probability of heatwaves, leading to drought and more forest fires.