Portugal battles forest fires amid heatwave

OUREM (Portugal) • Around 2,800 firefighters have been battling multiple wildfires in central and northern Portugal amid a heatwave, prompting the government to implement a "state of contingency".

The fires have been burning in several areas since last Thursday, destroying at least two homes.

Nearly 250 fires were reported to have started on Friday and Saturday.

The blazes come amid an intense heatwave in Portugal, with temperatures reaching over 40 deg C in the past week and expected to rise in the coming days.

Scientists say extreme weather events such as heatwaves and droughts are linked to climate change. And they are expected to become even more frequent, more prolonged and more intense in the future.

On Sunday, the Portuguese government issued a national "state of contingency", which puts rescue services on alert. It is above a state of alert but beneath a state of calamity and a state of emergency.

The Civil Protection agency said some 1,500 firefighters were battling blazes in the towns of Ourem, Pombal and Carrazeda de Ansiaes.

"The fire got 50m from the last house in the village," said pensioner Donzilia Marques who is from the hamlet of Travessa de Almogadel in central Portugal.

"Up there, everything burned," the 76-year-old said, pointing to the hills between her home and the town of Freixianda.

More than 700 soldiers were dispatched to the area on Sunday after the fires destroyed an estimated 1,500ha of vegetation, the Civil Protection agency said.

The fires have left around 40 firefighters and civilians injured. Most were treated on the spot for breathing problems or exhaustion.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa cancelled a planned trip to Mozambique to keep track of the fires.

The government has asked the European Union to trigger its common civil protection mechanism, which will allow Portugal to access two water bomber planes stationed in Spain.

"We are facing an almost unprecedented meteorological situation," national civil protection commander Andre Fernandes said last Saturday.

Portugal has regularly experienced extreme weather so far this year. Extreme drought affected around 28 per cent of the country in June.

In May, 97 per cent of the country suffered severe drought, with 1 per cent classed as extreme.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2022, with the headline Portugal battles forest fires amid heatwave. Subscribe