Villages Battle Wildfires in Portugal; Europe Swelters

BEMPOSTA, Portugal — More than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside ordinary Portuguese citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the European country on Thursday, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions linked to climate change.

This week, the central region of the country was particularly affected by an outbreak of fires. Residents of Bemposta used their garden hoses for spraying their roofs and lawns in an attempt to save their homes from the red fires.

“It began spreading towards that way (the right), the wind was blowing that way towards the mountain,” said 88-year-old Antonio Carmo Pereira, while pointing to the flames on the outskirts of his village. “I could see the view, but in a few minutes I couldn’t see anything, just smoke.

“(It’s) dangerous, yes. It’s surrounding all the houses,” he said. “I am afraid, but where can I go? Is it safe to leap into the water tank? Let me stay here and look.”

On Thursday morning more than 800 firefighters continued to fight in Leiria, the district where Bemposta can be found.

The Atlantic country’s interior was expected to reach 44 C (111 F) in the middle of the day, as hot and dry air from Africa is still hovering over its western border. In June, 96% of Portugal was classified as being in either in “extreme” or “severe” drought.

Hot air mixed with parched ground and winds have created a cocktail that has led to severe fires.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said Thursday that with temperatures expected to remain unusually high for the coming days his government plans to extend a state of alert for wildfires until Sunday. Originally, the alert for wildfires was to last until Friday. Public access has been temporarily blocked to certain forests, and farm machinery banned. Fireworks have also been prohibited by the government.

Costa stated that 200 fires were reported by firefighters on Wednesday. He also appealed to his neighbors to be more careful when they are out in the country.

“More than ever, we are the ones who must be extremely careful,” Costa said. “From a small act of carelessness a great tragedy can be born.”

The Civil Protection Agency estimates that approximately 10,000 ha (24.7kilom) of Portugal’s land has been destroyed by the fire. Around 865 people were evacuated from their homes in the week that passed, but many of them returned home by Thursday. Over 30 houses and buildings were damaged.

Civil Protection commander André Fernandes said that 160 people, including at least 70 firefighters, have been injured so far, but that there are no confirmed fatalities from the fires. Two firefighters and four others were severely injured. Portugal’s fire safety has increased since wildfires claimed more than 100 lives.

As scientists believe climate change is causing another extreme weather shift, the European Union has asked member countries to be ready for wildfires in this summer’s Europe.

Spain, a neighboring country was fighting a fire that had been started by lightning on Monday west of Las Hurdes. It has now consumed 3,500 ha (8.600 acres)

For several days, temperatures in Spain’s most parts have exceeded 40 C (104 F), and they are forecast to stay that way through next week.

Continue reading: Extreme Heat Can Do to Your Body

France: Two fires in France erupted in Bordeaux, southwest France, for the third day in a row despite efforts by 1,000 firefighters and water-dumping airplanes.

According to the emergency, more than 3850 hectares (9,500 acres) worth of forest and grassland were destroyed by the fires. High winds and difficulties accessing the fire’s heart made it difficult for firefighters to control the flames.

In the last few days, more than 6 000 people had to be evacuated from villages and campgrounds.


Joseph Wilson reports from Barcelona in Spain. AP writers Angela Charlton in Paris, and Ciarán Giles in Madrid, contributed to this report.

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