Spain & Portugal suffer deadly weekend of fires

Spain & Portugal suffer deadly weekend of fires
By Robert Hackwill
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The death toll in the weekend's fires in Spain & Portugal nears 40 as rain brings some respite, but many areas still in flames.


Residents of the northern Spanish region of Asturias have been recounting the horror as wildfires swept through the region burning everything in their path.

One farmer described feeling “pure fear and panic” as she scrambled to save her cows in the fields near her home.

Firefighters have been battling fires raging through parched farmlands and forests in northern Spain and neighbouring Portugal that have left at least 38 dead with most of the death toll resulting from the Portuguese fires. Spanish media reported fire fighters have been battling more than 70 active fires in the country.

Flames ripped across the Iberian countryside left tinder-dry by drought and an unusually hot summer and early autumn, fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed coastal areas.

Galicia was also badly affected, with a fourth death confirmed there on Tuesday in Vigo, the region’s biggest city that was briefly in danger from the flames. At least 50 fires are still burning in various stages of containment, although some rain fell on Tuesday morning, aiding firefighters.

In Portugal, beyond the at least 36 deaths 63 people have been injured, with 15 in a serious condition. According to the Civil Protection Agency, some seven people are still missing. Police and other officials are trying to locate them.

Hundreds of houses, factories and warehouses were destroyed by the fires forcing hundreds of residents to flee from towns and villages. Cooler and wetter weather during the night helped firefighters to control the fires. Unseasonably warm weather was to blame for the deadly fires in northern and central Portugal, which has been especially hard-hit by wildfires this year – including one that killed 64 people in June. An independent investigation into those fires found last week that authorities failed to evacuate villages on time.

A prolonged drought and mid-October temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius have fuelled the recent spate of blazes. Portugal’s government asked for international help from its European partners and Morocco and has declared a state of emergency. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Monday in a TV address that “after this year nothing can stay as before”. Costa added that the country is in “a time of mourning,” but refused to accept the resignation of the Minister of Internal Affairs, stating that “it is not time of resignations, it is time for solutions.”

The first real rain since June and lower temperatures meant that on Tuesday firefighters said all the blazes were now “under control”. The fires at the weekend also destroyed one of the country’s oldest pine forests, which was used to make the ships that Portugal sailed on its “Discoveries” of the world in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In all, Portugal has lost 350,000 hectares to fires this year, the worst losses since 2003, and by far the worst in Europe this year.

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