Portuguese wildfires rage on

Nearly 3 000 firefighters and soldiers on Tuesday battled dozens of wildfires that continued to rage in parched Portugal as police found the charred body an elderly woman near her rural home, emergency services said.

Eleven fires were raging out of control in the centre and north of the country, but firefighters said Coimbra, the nation’s third-largest city, was no longer under threat from flames due to a change in wind direction.

Flames from a large fire surrounded the city of more than 100 000 people located about 200km north-east of Lisbon on Monday, charring at least 10 homes and forcing the evacuation of about 60 people.

“There is no chance that the fire will return to the perimeter of Coimbra,” the city’s firefighter chief, Antonio Bernardes, told news radio TSF.

The firefighters were backed by nine water-dropping planes and helicopters rushed in from five fellow European Union nations—France, Germany, Italy, Spain and The Netherlands—after Lisbon on Saturday appealed for help.

More than 50 firefighters were expected to arrive in mainland Portugal from the Azores and Madeira archipelagoes to help stretched firefighters battle one the worst outbreaks of wildfires in memory, the civil protection agency said.

Police, meanwhile, found the body of an 88-year-old woman about 150m from her home near the central town of Ourem, apparently the victim of wildfires that have hit the region, local firefighters said.

The death brings to 15 the number of fatalities caused by blazes that have swept through tinder-dry forests since the start of the year. Among the dead are 10 firefighters.

A 40-year-old man taking part in the struggle to beat back the flames near Vila Nova de Poiares in the north was killed on Monday when a fire truck backed over him, police said.

With temperatures set to rise up to 36 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country, the agriculture ministry’s Forest Fire Prevention Agency said most of the country faced a high risk of wildfires.

The wildfires come as Portugal struggles with its worst drought since 1945, which has dried up reservoirs and led to water restrictions in some areas.

Speaking late on Monday after a visit to Coimbra, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said the nation faced “the worst risk of fires of the last five years” because of the dry spell, and he praised the work done by firefighters in recent days.

The national weather office forecasts temperatures will start dropping by Wednesday, with a chance of light rain in the fire-ravaged north.

The wildfires have ravaged 134 500ha of land so far this year, more than during all of last year, and destroyed more than 100 houses and nearly 500 farm buildings.

Portugal, one of Western Europe’s poorest nations, can make an appeal to benefit from the European Union’s Solidarity Fund for natural disasters, an EU Commission spokesperson said on Monday.

France, Portugal and Spain have benefited from the fund in the past in the case of forest fires.—AFP

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