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Portugal: more than 100,000 hectares destroyed in forest fires

Forest fires in Portugal have consumed more than 104,000 hectares (257,000 acres) of land this year, an official estimate said Wednesday, the biggest destruction for five years as the country battles exceptional heatwaves.

According to a report from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, it is the largest area destroyed since the deadly fires of 2017 when a series of blazes cost dozens of lives.

On Wednesday, firefighters were still battling flames in the region of Vila Real, in the far north of the country.

But commander of civil protection Miguel Fonseca, who coordinates the rescue operations, told reporters the fire was “practically under control”.

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

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

The government declared a state of alert on Sunday after identifying a heightened risk of rural fires between Sunday and Tuesday amid soaring temperatures and an ongoing severe drought.

Experts say climate change driven by human activity is boosting the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires.

Portugal experienced its hottest July in almost a century and hundreds of firefighters were drafted in to fight a serious blaze north of Lisbon earlier this month.

Last Wednesday a fire which had burnt more than 25,000 hectares of land in the UNESCO-listed central mountainous area of Serra da Estrela was finally extinguished.