800 firefighters battling fierce wildfire in Portugal

A villager doing his bit to douse raging flames in Macao, in central Portugal, yesterday. Firefighters had been deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 225km north-east of the capital Lisbon. PHOT
A villager doing his bit to douse raging flames in Macao, in central Portugal, yesterday. Firefighters had been deployed to tackle three fires in the mountainous and heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 225km north-east of the capital Lisbon. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LISBON • More than 800 firefighters were battling a wildfire sweeping across central Portugal yesterday, after bringing under control two other blazes which left 20 people injured and prompted authorities to partially evacuate a village.

In a statement yesterday, police said a 55-year-old man had been detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco, where the wildfires began last Saturday before spreading to nearby Santarem.

"The suspect's actions put people's lives, houses and the forest at risk," the police said, without explicitly saying the detained man was responsible for the ongoing wildfire.

Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation into the fires, adding that the local authorities considered it unusual that all the blazes had started within a narrow time frame - between 2:30pm and 3:30pm - last Saturday, and in the same area.

Strong winds and high temperatures are making it harder for firefighters to put out the remaining wildfire, although they have been able to control 85 per cent of the flames in Vila de Rei, a municipality in Castelo Branco, 225km north-east of the capital Lisbon.

"(It will be) an afternoon of intense work," Civil Protection official Belo Costa told reporters.

Thirteen airplanes and 243 firefighting vehicles on the ground are battling the blazes, along with 20 soldiers and four bulldozers.

 
 

Twelve civilians and eight firefighters were injured in Saturday's fires, Mr Cabrita said. One is in a serious condition and remains hospitalised with first and second-degree burns.

Castelo Branco remains under a yellow risk alert with temperatures expected to reach 31 deg C yesterday, according to the national meteorological agency.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2019, with the headline '800 firefighters battling fierce wildfire in Portugal'. Print Edition | Subscribe