MADRID – Months of drought have reignited wildfires in Portugal and north-western Spain, leaving at least 36 people dead and some 50 injured as rescue workers endeavour to reach areas affected by the blazes.
A 1-month-old was among at least 31 people killed by wildfires in several central districts of Portugal, according to the country’s civil defence authorities. Fifteen of those injured were severely wounded by the flames.
Portugal’s central districts of Coimbra and Castela Branco, as well as Viseu further north, were worst hit by the fires. A civil defence spokesman said authorities had identified 65 separate blaze areas, 32 of which are burning especially fiercely.
Authorities called on residents to fight the flames themselves, as firefighters could not be expected to reach all affected areas. Countless streets were no longer passable.
Warm winds from the south had fanned the fires, but authorities are hoping for an Atlantic low pressure system that will bring rain in the coming days.
“Today all our thoughts are with our citizens who are suffering from the devastating forest fires in Portugal and Spain” said EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides in a statement.
“Our condolences go to all those that have sadly lost loved ones and we commend the brave first responders working in difficult conditions to save the lives of others.”
A request from Portugal for assistance from the EU could not initially be met, as it was contingent on the equipment other countries were willing to provide.
“Following a request for assistance from the Portuguese authorities, firefighting aircraft from Italy are being dispatched through the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism,” said Stylianides.
“These specialized planes will operate in the most affected areas in Portugal and provide valuable support to the national emergency efforts.”
In Spain, four people were reported dead in the north-western province of Galicia as a result of separate fires raging in the region.
Local authorities, as well as Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who visited the area, expressed their firm suspicion that those fires were the result of an organized group of people committing an act of arson.
Evacuations were carried out in approximately 20 villages in Galicia threatened by the fires, as well as a student residence at Spain’s University of Vigo and at a factory for carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen.
As many as 200 fires were registered in the Spanish region, with 60 fires having broken out on Sunday afternoon. The affected area spans more than 4,000 hectares.
In June, at least 63 people died when wildfires broke out across central Portugal, in the deadliest forest fire for the country since records began. -DPA