Firefighters scramble to put out flames in heat-hit Portugal and Spain


OURÉM, Portugal, July 12 (Reuters) – Multiple wildfires swept through Portugal’s central region on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents as firefighters struggled to douse the blazes at a time when the country is grappling with a sweltering heat wave.

With temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in many areas, a major wildfire that started last week in the municipality of Ourém, north of Lisbon, was reignited on Tuesday due to high winds.

The civil protection authority said 300 people had been evacuated from several villages. In the neighboring municipality of Leiria, some houses have burned, with the fires causing the closure of three main highways.

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Joaquim Gomes, a 75-year-old pensioner who has lived in a small village in Ourém for five decades, said he feared the wildfire would reach his house but was ready to do whatever was in his power to help fight him.

“I don’t remember anything like what’s happening today,” he said near the village bar where residents were gathered. “He (fire) is everywhere.”

Many residents complained that there were not enough firefighters and resources to fight the blazes.

“We are talking about complex situations, a lot of resources to manage and a very large affected area,” Civil Protection Commander André Fernandes said, warning that the situation will only get worse in the coming days.

About 1,700 firefighters supported by 501 vehicles were battling 14 active fires across the country, according to Civil Protection. More than half of the country is on “red alert”, the highest level.

In neighboring Spain, at least 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) have been destroyed by a fire in Las Hurdes in Extremadura, western Spain, forcing the evacuation of around 400 residents, it was announced on Tuesday the regional government.

There was a high risk of forest fires in the central region of Castile and Leon, authorities said.

The province of Ourense, in the northwest, was on red alert as temperatures were expected to reach 42°C.

“It is indeed a season with more heat than other years… it’s tough,” said 42-year-old Madrid delivery man Edison Vladimir.


In the Portuguese capital, which is buzzing with tourists, people tried to cool off by drinking water, eating ice cream or heading to the riverside or nearby beaches.

On a small beach by the Tagus, a British couple and their toddler enjoyed the morning sun before it got too hot to go outside.

“We kept an eye on the weather before we came, and we knew it was going to be hot…it’s quite similar to the UK but we don’t have air conditioning there,” Megan said. Slancey, 28 years old. .

The UK Met Office has issued an extreme heat warning as temperatures continue to rise this week and early next week across much of England and Wales.

Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization, told a UN press briefing on Tuesday that although the heat wave, the second in Europe this year, is mainly affecting Portugal and Spain , it was likely to spread elsewhere.

“It’s affecting large parts of Europe and it’s going to intensify,” Nullis said.

With human-caused climate change triggering droughts, the number of extreme wildfires is expected to increase by 30% over the next 28 years, according to a UN report from February 2022. Read more

“You can clearly see that the weather has changed in recent years,” said Paul de Almeida, 51, a South African visiting Lisbon. “We need to take steps to resolve it.”

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Additional reporting by Guillermo Martinez, Michael Gore in Spain, Elena Rodriguez in Madrid, Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Patricia Rua, Graham Keeley; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams and Marguerita Choy

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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