Portugal asks for help from Europe to fight fires

A man fights the flames of a forest fire near the village of Cioga do Campo in Portugal's Coimbra district on Saturday. Emergency services said 268 fires broke out on Saturday, the highest number for any single day this year, with 6,500 firemen fight
A man fights the flames of a forest fire near the village of Cioga do Campo in Portugal's Coimbra district on Saturday. Emergency services said 268 fires broke out on Saturday, the highest number for any single day this year, with 6,500 firemen fighting to put them out.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LISBON • More than 3,000 firemen struggled to put out forest fires across Portugal after the country requested assistance from Europe to fight blazes that threaten to spread with more hot weather in the coming days.

Exceptionally dry and hot weather ignited Portugal's worst fire disaster in memory early this summer, killing 64 people, and fires have continued to flare up in recent weeks with the arrival of each new hotter spell of weather.

Interior Minister Constanca Urbana de Sousa said yesterday the country sent the request for help to Europe late on Saturday because of concerns that high temperatures and high winds in the coming days could increase the number of fires, according to news agency Lusa.

The request covered firefighting planes and firemen, and is part of a European mechanism for cooperation to fight fires.

Emergency services said 268 fires broke out on Saturday, the highest number for any single day this year, with 6,500 firemen fighting to put them out.

There were fears that many of them could flare up again later yesterday, with higher winds and temperatures that hit in the afternoon.

The central district of Coimbra adopted a local state of emergency to deal with fires, as did four smaller municipalities in the region.

While fires have burned through the summer, none has had the tragic impact of the one in late June, as emergency services have made far greater efforts to evacuate villages and shut roads early in affected areas.

But the country could face many more weeks of fires before the end of summer.

More than 140,000ha of forest has burned this summer in Portugal, more than three times higher than the average over the last 10 years, according to European Union data.

Meanwhile, huge wildfires on the French island of Corsica which broke out over the weekend have been contained.

Almost 1,000 people were evacuated in Corsica overnight on Saturday, mostly tourists staying at campsites, as 2,000ha of scrubland was destroyed, although no casualties were reported.

The evacuees were put up in schools and other temporary shelters.

A man suspected of starting five fires in Bastia, a town with a population of 40,000 in north-east Corsica, was arrested and would remain in detention at least through the weekend, officials said.

At Cap Corse, the most northerly point of the Mediterranean island where the fire had spread, the blaze was "contained but not controlled", according to the local authorities Saturday.

Around 180 firefighters, bolstered by reinforcements from the mainland, were battling the flames, aided by three fire-bombing aircraft.

Mr Bernard Weber, a 60-year- old Frenchman on holiday in Corsica, spoke of "huge flames everywhere".

France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb praised the "admirable work" of the hundreds of emergency services workers battling the blazes.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2017, with the headline 'Portugal asks for help from Europe to fight fires'. Print Edition | Subscribe