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02 October 2023

Portugal, Spain make progress against major wildfires

A firefighter works on an active fire on a hillside outside the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal's Algarve region. (AP)


Authorities in Portugal and Spain said Thursday they have halted major wildfires but warned the battle isn’t over yet.

Bulldozers working through the night to create firebreaks helped stop a blaze in southern Portugal’s Algarve region that has raced across a hill range for seven days, the Civil Protection Agency said.

Temperatures also fell, with a maximum of 26 degrees Celsius (79 Fahrenheit) forecast for Thursday.

However, the fire’s perimeter measured more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) and gusting winds could trigger reignitions, Patricia Gaspar, the Civil Protection Agency’s deputy commander, said.

Almost 1,300 firefighters with 389 vehicles and eight aircraft are deployed at the blaze. Military units are patrolling forests to check for fresh outbreaks, Gaspar said.

The fire, in the area around Monchique, abut 300 kilometers (180 miles) south of the capital, Lisbon, has charred almost 23,500 hectares (58,000 acres) of woodland, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

The fire has cast high plumes of dark smoke across the Algarve coast, dimming the sun on some of the famous beaches in one of Europe’s top vacation destinations.

More than 40 people have been hurt, one of them seriously, and hundreds evacuated from villages and hamlets during Portugal’s worst wildfire of the year.

In neighboring Spain, light overnight rain helped stop the progress of a wildfire near Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast.

Authorities hoped that would allow them to put the fire out Thursday after a four-day blaze that scorched about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres).

Firefighters there were supported by 31 aircraft.