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14 April 2024

Portuguese firefighters bring forest blazes under control

Photo: AFP


Firefighters aided by overnight rain on Tuesday brought under control massive wildfires raging for four days in a central region of Portugal where dozens of people were killed in huge blazes in 2017.

Nearly 1,100 firefighters were still deployed to completely put out the blazes, which ripped through the heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Lisbon, said commander Luis Belo Costa of the civil protection agency.

"The fire has been controlled. It is normal that during the afternoon it could become reactivated in some places but that is part of the process," he told a news conference.

Light rains overnight raised humidity levels, aiding the battle against the blazes which have scorched large areas and left a trail of blackened destruction.

The authorities suspect the fires which broke out on Saturday amid scorching temperatures were started deliberately.

Portugal's civil protection agency had said on Monday morning the wildfires were "90 percent controlled", but strong winds fanned the flames into life again in the afternoon.

Winds are forecast to pick up on Tuesday but "they won't be as aggressive as yesterday", Costa said.

At least 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) have so far been scorched, according to the EU's European Forest Fire Information System.

Forty-one people including several firefighters have been injured since the wildfires broke out in Castelo Branco, with most suffering smoke inhalation, according to emergency service INEM.

A farmer who reportedly sustained serious burns as he tried to protect his tractor from the flames was evacuated to a Lisbon hospital on Sunday.

While a number of small villages were evacuated as a precaution, officials said they still did not know how many homes were damaged.