European commission to provide €45 million to tackle Portugal forest fires

The European Commission is to provide €45 million to Portugal to help deal with the consequences of the fires in the center of the country.

Blazes over the last week have left 86 wounded, seven seriously, and around 1,200 firefighters, 300 vehicles and nearly twenty aircraft or helicopters have been mobilized.

The first of these two fires, which ravaged the neighboring towns of Maçao and Vila de Rei, broke out on Tuesday evening.

But the situation worsened on Wednesday night and about 80 people from Maçao, a town with about 2000 residents, had to be evacuated, and around fifty others in the neighboring communes of Sardoal and Abrantes.

“It is impossible to leave or return to Maçao because of the flames and the smoke. The fire is progressing without respite,” said mayor, Vasco Estrela.

According to him, “80 to 90%” of the municipality was consumed by the flames, because it had already been ravaged by fire at the end of July.

In Vila de Rei, in the district of Castelo Branco fires have been active since August 15, where 363 firefighters and a hundred ground vehicles are tackling the blaze.

In the district of Vila Real (in the north of the country) 97 firemen, 21 vehicles and 2 aircraft are tackling a blaze that broke out on the 16 August.

On Thursday morning (17 August) a blaze broke out in the district of Viseu (Central region), mobilizing 69 firefighters, 13 land vehicles and 3 aircraft.

The National Civil Protection Authority say the country is experiencing the most severe weather conditions since 2005 in terms of drought, heat and wind intensity.

About 80 percent of the country is suffering from severe drought.

Over 140,000 hectares (1400km2) of woodland have burned so far this year – three times more than the average over the past decade – with firefighters tackling over 10,000 separate fires – 2,500 more than over the same period last year.

61 suspected arsonists have also been arrested so far this year.

The largest number of people killed in forest blazes was in 2003, when a record 426,000 hectares (4260km2) were destroyed.

But this year has been deadlier; wildfires that broke out in mid-June claimed the lives of 64 people and wounded more than 250 others near Pedrogao Grande, in the centre of the country.

Some of those who died were caught in their cars as they tried to flee the flames.

The blazes raced through densely packed pine and eucalyptus forests that officials say were not cleared of debris.

With expectations of a further rise in temperature, emergency services have extended the orange alert level -the fourth level of gravity out of five – at least until early Friday evening.
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