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Portugal sends crews to help Madeira battle fires

Portugal flew fire crews over to the popular tourist island of Madeira Thursday to help local authorities battle a series of fires that have destroyed several houses and forced a number of evacuations.

A transport plane from the Portuguese air force arrived on the archipelago — which lies southwest off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean — from Lisbon at midday local time (1100 GMT) with 83 firemen on board, reported local media.

Fires raged around the towns of Calheta, Ribeira Brava as well as in Santa Cruz, where one house was destroyed and a health centre, school and youth centre were evacuated as a precautionary measure.

Portuguese Interior Minister Miguel Maceo visited the area, which is popular with tourists for its mountainous landscapes, with the president of Madeira’s regional government, Alberto Joao Jardim.

The problems started on Wednesday evening when high temperatures and strong winds fanned a fire that broke out on the edge of the capital Funchal, gutting two houses and partially burning a third.

Around ten people were taken to hospital with eye inflamation or breathing difficulties caused by smoke from the fire.

Firefighters later took control of the blaze, which ravaged an area of 30 hectares (74 acres).

High temperatures have also led to forest fires on the Portuguese mainland.

On Thursday, 400 firemen assisted by four planes and two helicopters tackled a fire in the southern Tahira region while, a day earlier, 6,000 firemen attended to 200 small fires around the country.

Spain and the Canary Islands have also been affected by fires in recent days.