Forest fires continue to rage in Portugal and Spain

Forest fires continue to rage in Portugal and Spain
By Nicholas Wells with  Reuters
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Forest fires rage in Portugal and Spain, amid warnings they could take days to extinguish.


Portugal's Prime Minister has warned that a massive fire burning out of control in the Algarve tourist region will take many days to put out, as authorities battled near record temperatures.

The fire, which is heading south from the Monchique hills towards the Algarve coast, started on August 3 despite huge efforts by the government to prevent any repetition of last year's deadly fires in which 114 people were killed.

The flames have now spread closer to the coast and the municipalities of Silves and Portmao.

"It's an operation that will still take several days,'' Prime Minister Antonio Costa said at a news conference.

''The fire will not be extinguished in the next few hours. The coming hours will be especially difficult because of temperature, wind velocity and relative humidity. The firefighting windows of opportunity are limited and focused on night time and dawn."

Environmentalists are pointing the finger of blame at eucalyptus trees, a native Australian species first introduced in Europe in the late 18th century.

It thrived in Portugal, where the fast-growing species was later used in reforestation and to drain swamps.

It’s now the most common tree in Portugal.

But eucalyptus oil is highly flammable and burning leaves and bark are easily carried by the wind.

"We've got to do something about the eucalyptus,'' Ken Mandsfield, an Algarve resident originally from the United Kingdom, said. ''That's the problem. It's like living next to a can of petrol. You don't want that.''

The progress of the fire can be seen from space. Experts say it has already destroyed more than 21,000 hectares.

In neighbouring Spain, emergency services tackled a major wildfire in the forest of Llutxent around 80 kilometres south of Valencia.

The blaze has already forced the evacuation of some 2,500 people and the authorities say the situation remains a concern.

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