From: Associated Press
Published August 5, 2005 12:00 AM

Portuguese Firefighters Struggle to Contain Wildfires

LISBON, Portugal — Strong winds and sweltering temperatures fueled some 20 wildfires across drought-stricken Portugal on Thursday as the number of firefighters on duty nearly doubled compared to the previous day, authorities said.


The day began with 10 major blazes and the number doubled by mid-afternoon as temperatures soared above 40 C (104 F). Nearly 1,600 firefighters tackled the blazes, patrolled high-risk areas or cleaned up scorched areas, the Civil Protection Service said.


They were supported by 457 vehicles and nearly two dozen planes and helicopters dropping water. On Wednesday, about 900 firefighters were on duty.


Flames engulfed about a dozen rural houses, including several holiday homes, officials said.


Most fires were in heavily wooded areas of northern Portugal. A smoky haze from the fires covered Porto, the country's second-largest city, television images showed.


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Temperatures in some regions were forecast to reach 45 C (113 F), the weather service said.


The Fire Prevention Agency placed most of Portugal on maximum alert as the country endures its worst drought on record. The heat wave is expected to continue through Saturday.


Fires have charred more than 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) of parched woodland this year, more than half of it last month, according to the General-Directorate for Forests.


In neighboring Spain on Thursday firefighters battled to extinguish a forest blaze a few kilometers (miles) from the northern city of Pamplona.


The regional government of Navarra said three helicopters and five planes were brought in to tackle the fire on the Monte San Cristobal, north of the city.


Seven elderly residents were evacuated as a precaution from the small village of Garrues, but authorities said it was no longer at risk by early evening. There was no word on the cause of the fire.


Spain is experiencing its driest summer since record-keeping began in the 1940s and has seen a spate of forest fires.


Last month, a blaze apparently sparked by a barbecue fire killed 11 firefighters and destroyed more than 11,000 hectares (27,000 acres) of woodland in a nature reserve east of Madrid.


Source: Associated Press


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