Wildfires continue in Portugal, Spain as France feels the heat

By On August 07, 2018

Wildfires continue in Portugal, Spain as France feels the heat

Tues., Aug. 7, 2018

LISBONâ€"Firefighters and anxious residents braced Tuesday for a fifth straight night of battling a major wildfire that is racing across tinder-dry forested hills in southern Portugal.

The blaze is sending high plumes of smoke across the Algarve region’s famous beaches and bringing criticism of authorities for failing to halt the flames.

Town signs stand amid burnt-out surroundings outside the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, on Monday. Emergency services in Portugal say they are still fighting a major wildfire on the south coast that threatened to engulf a hill   side town.
Town signs stand amid burnt-out surroundings outside the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, on Monday. Emergency services in Portugal say they are still fighting a major wildfire on the south coast that threatened to engulf a hillside town.

A strong seasonal wind from the north known as a “nortada” was driving the fire south toward Silves, a town of about 6,000 people, after it narrowly missed the smaller town of Monchique. Several hundred people were evacuated and 29 were hurt, one seriously, officials said.

Almost 1,200 firefighters, supported by 16 aircraft and 358 vehicles, were deployed around Monchique, a town of 2,000 people about 250 kilometres south of Lisbon, where the blaze came within 500 metres of the local fire station.

An unknown number of homes â€" believed to be in the dozens, according to local reports â€" in the forested hills have burned down.

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With so many resources deployed, many residents asked why the fire was still burning, especially after 95 per cent of it was under control on Monday.

Firefighters also publicly questioned the wisdom of the strategy to counter the flames, with some claiming poor organization was thwarting the operation. Monchique was identified as a high-risk area months ago.

Firefighting is co-ordinated by the Civil Protection Agency, a government body overseen by the Ministry of Internal Administration, which oversees national defence.

In Spain's Valencia region, a wildfire that has already devastated a thousand hectares forced 2,500 people to move last night.
In Spain's Valencia regio n, a wildfire that has already devastated a thousand hectares forced 2,500 people to move last night.

The National Association of Professional Firemen and the Professional Firemen’s Trade Union issued a joint statement saying that the government’s recent reorganization of firefighting capabilities needs to be reassessed and rethought. The organizations asked for a “very urgent” meeting with the Eduardo Cabrita, the internal administration minister.

Cabrita told reporters that authorities were switching co-ordination of the Monchique fire from the local Civil Protection Agency to the department’s national operational command in Lisbon.

He declined to criticize the firefighting operation, saying the effort had been “notable.”

Portugal beefed up its wildfire response over the winter after 109 people died last year in forest blazes amid a severe drought.

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Vitor Vaz Pinto, the Civil Protection Agency’s district commander, said the weather forecast around Monchique was “unfavourable,” with a gusting wind from the north, known as a “nortada.”

Temperatures were forecast to reach 35 C â€" normal for August in southern Portugal.

Tourists cool themselves in front of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris during an on-going heatwave in Europe.
Tourists cool themselves in front of the Louvre Pyramid in Paris during an on-going heatwave in Europe.

The Iberian Peninsula endured some record heat last weekend, with temperatures exceeding 45 C, which parched large areas.

Spanish emergency services said a wildfire Tuesday near Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, was almost under control after two dozen aircraft were brought in. The blaze forced the evacuation of about 2,500 people.

The high temperatures moved northward to France. The hottest weather was expected in central and northeastern France, with temperatures that could reach 40 C.

Dutch authorities evacuated four campsites as a brush fire swept through parched countryside in the eastern Netherlands, where temperatures were in the mid-30s C. The regional security service said that firefighters from three provinces were battling the blaze on Tuesday in Wateren, 135 kilometres northeast of Amsterdam.

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