LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s prime minister warned on Wednesday that a massive fire burning in the southern Algarve tourist region will take many days to put out as authorities sent more firefighters to combat the blaze.
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.
Nobody has died this year.
In his first comments on the fire, made on television, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said more than 500 fire outbreaks had been extinguished in the past week as a crippling heatwave rolled across Portugal.
“There was one which got out of control,” said Costa. “This is a (firefighting) operation which will last during coming days and there is no point in having the illusion it will be put out in coming hours.”
The Civil Protection Service sent 120 more firefighters, bringing the total to 1,450 and 450 fire engines. More than a dozen aircraft were involved, including three Canadair firefighting planes which scooped up sea water off a popular tourist beach.
Costa’s government is under pressure to show its efforts, which have included hiring hundreds of firefighters and clearing land of flammable undergrowth, are paying off to prevent a repeat of last year’s tragedy.
The overriding priority was to evacuate people in case of danger, he said.
Firefighters have criticised disorganisation in the efforts, which prompted authorities on Tuesday to move the command of the operation to the national level.
“Firefighters coming from Portugal’s cities, like Lisbon, don’t know what to do,” said Rui Nunes, 25, a volunteer firefighter from Monchique.
“Lack of preparation and disorganisation contributed to the spread of the fire because firefighters from the cities know how to deal with road crashes and urban fires, but forest fires are very different.”
About 30 people have been treated for smoke inhalation and burns. Nearly 200 people have been evacuated from their homes in the Monchique hills.
The government was overwhelmed last year by fires in June and October in extreme drought. The interior minister resigned and the opposition launched a vote of no-confidence, which the government survived.
(Reporting By Axel Bugge and Catarina Demony, editing by Andrei Khalip, Richard Balmforth)