Wildfires rage in Spain and Portugal, four emergency workers killed

A firefighter watches a burnt area after a wildfire in Paredes near Oliveira de Frades, central Portugal on Tuesday, Aug 27, 2013. Firefighters and local residents struggled on Tuesday to tackle raging wildfires that have consumed large swathes of fo
A firefighter watches a burnt area after a wildfire in Paredes near Oliveira de Frades, central Portugal on Tuesday, Aug 27, 2013. Firefighters and local residents struggled on Tuesday to tackle raging wildfires that have consumed large swathes of forest in Portugal and Spain and cost the lives of four emergency workers.-- PHOTO: AFP

ALAGOA, Portugal (AFP) - Firefighters and local residents struggled on Tuesday to tackle raging wildfires that have consumed large swathes of forest in Portugal and Spain and cost the lives of four emergency workers.

"This cursed fire won't give us a break and seems hellbent on destroying everything in its path," said Mr Manuel Pinto, a resident of Povoa in central Portugal who was beating back the flames with a branch alongside exhausted firefighters.

A volunteer firefighter who tackled the same blaze as a female colleague killed last week in the mountains of central Portugal has died from his injuries, his commander Carlos Coelho said.

The 23-year-old's death brings the number of emergency responders killed in Portugal's August fires to four.

More than 800 firefighters were mobilised in Portugal to tackle the blazes, which have intensified overnight due to high winds.

A spokesman for Portugal's emergencies agency repeated his call for France to remain in the country after two French planes were dispatched to drop water on affected regions this week.

"The French mission is supposed to be completed on Thursday, but we asked for an extension. We are waiting for a response," said Mr Miguel Cruz, spokesman for the Civil Protection Authority.

Two Spanish planes had also helped Portuguese authorities take on the fires but returned home at the weekend.

Mr Cruz said Portugal would not ask neighbouring Spain for more help because of their own "difficult situation", as firefighters and water-dumping planes battled a large wildfire in Spain's north-west that drove residents from their homes, according to officials.

The blaze, one of hundreds to ravage Spain's parched land over the summer, broke out late Monday near Oia, a village on the Atlantic coast near the border with Portugal.

Firefighters backed by aeroplanes and helicopters were battling to curb flames that ravaged 1,200 hectares as they spread, the regional government said in a statement.

An alert was declared after the fire came close to some houses and residents were evacuated, an official in the Galicia region rural affairs ministry told AFP, but no one was reported hurt.

"The situation has improved since last night," the official said. "We are not aware of the fire reaching any houses, although there were some evacuations." The official could not say how many people were evacuated but Spanish newspapers said the figure was at least 176.

The ministry said firefighters had controlled four other fires in the region in recent days, which burned thousands of hectares between them.

The central government said it had sent firefighting planes and personnel to the Oia fire and two others, in the Asturias region and the Tarragona area west of Barcelona.

Spain and Portugal are prone to forest fires in summer because of soaring temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation.

Last year, wildfires destroyed more than 150,000 hectares of land in Spain from January to July, after one of the driest winters on record.

This year the winter was wetter and there have been fewer summer fires so far.

And almost 31,000 hectares of Portugal's countryside has already been destroyed by fire this year, according to its Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.