Thursday, December 08, 2022

Portugal battles forest fires amid drought and heat; 29 injured

LISBON, Portugal ( Associated Press) — More than 3,000 firefighters and more than 60 planes battled wildfires in Portugal on Sunday that authorities say have injured 29 people.

Authorities said 12 firefighters and 17 civilians required medical assistance to treat minor injuries caused by the flames, Portuguese state television RTP and other local media reported. On Sunday afternoon, Portugal’s Civil Protection Agency said more than 3,000 firefighters were battling the active fires.

The European Union on Sunday activated its firefighting aerial fleet assistance program that allows member countries to share resources to help Portugal. Spain, which has also recently suffered from wildfires, responded quickly by mobilizing two firefighting planes to dispatch to its Iberian neighbor, according to EU crisis commissioner Janez Lenarcic.

Portugal’s government said it has deployed 60 planes to support its ground crews.

Portugal has long suffered from large and sometimes tragic forest fires. In 2017, wildfires out of control killed more than 100 people.

The European Union says that climate change has the continent facing one of its most difficult years due to natural disasters such as droughts and forest fires.

Across the border in Spain, a fire in the southwest prompted authorities to evacuate 30 people from their homes as a precaution. Some 115 firefighters backed by helicopters and planes were deployed to that fire near the town of El Ronquillo.

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa postponed his plans to visit Mozambique this week “in view of weather forecasts that indicate a very serious worsening of the risk of rural fires.”

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa also canceled his trip to New York, where he was scheduled to speak at the UN Economic and Social Council.

In June, 96% of the southern European country was classified as being in “extreme” or “severe” drought.

The fires have caused the authorities to increase the state of alert already established. The Portuguese government declared a state of maximum alert on Saturday that will last until Friday.

“This means (…) that we can automatically and preventively activate all emergency and civil protection plans at all territorial levels,” said the Minister of the Interior Administration, José Luís Carneiro.

The wildfires loom as Portugal suffers a heat wave with temperatures expected to reach 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit). The country has adopted restrictions that prohibit public access to forests considered to be of special risk, prohibited the use of agricultural machinery and banned fireworks.

Costa, in a message on Twitter, reminded citizens not to light fires outdoors or use heavy agricultural machinery that could cause sparks.

“Preventing fires is the best help we can give our firefighters,” the prime minister wrote.

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