June 8, 2023

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Portugal struggles to control huge blaze in natural park

Portugal struggles to control huge blaze in natural park

More than 1,200 firefighters struggled Wednesday to control a huge forest fire in Portugal’s Serra da Estrela park, which resumed just days after being brought under control.

Strong winds have been hampering attempts to combat the spread of the fire, one of 195 that have ravaged some 92,000 hectares of land across Portugal this year amid record temperatures.

The fire in the UNESCO-designated park restarted Tuesday after being brought under control five days earlier, and is estimated to have already consumed around 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of land.

It is still posing a sizeable challenge even if “90 percent of this fire’s perimeter is now under control”, said civil protection agency head Andre Fernandes.

July proved to be Portugal’s hottest in nearly a century, with the country battling its worst forest fires since 2017 when around 100 lives were lost.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is contributing to extreme weather events, including wildfires and heatwaves.

Neighbouring Spain has also been battling a wave of forest fires in recent weeks after also recording soaring temperatures.

The Serra da Estrela fire started on August 6 outside the central town of Covilha and authorities say they have deployed 390 fire engines and 14 planes and helicopters in efforts to control it.

Firefighters, who hope to keep the fire from spreading further before temperatures are forecast to rise again Friday, have thrown a 160-kilometre (95-mile) cordon around the area, Fernandes told reporters.

The blaze has left 27 people injured, including three seriously, while 45 people have been evacuated as a precaution since Monday.

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Residents in the village of Orjais in the foothills of the mountain range helped fight back the flames which came within a few dozen metres (feet) of their homes.

“It was chaos”, Fatima Cardoso, 62, told AFP.

“We have not yet reached the end of this critical period for fires,” Interior Minister Jose Luis Carneiro warned after meeting with meteorologists.

The upcoming heatwave is forecast to last into September, which Carneiro said was set to be drier and hotter than usual.