Over 1,000 firefighters, planes, helicopters battle wildfires in Portugal’s Castelo Branco region; one civilian seriously injured

Planes and helicopters joined more than a thousand firefighters in central Portugal Sunday to battle huge wildfires in a mountainous region where over 100 people died in huge blazes in 2017

Agence France-Presse July 21, 2019 18:28:39 IST
Over 1,000 firefighters, planes, helicopters battle wildfires in Portugal’s Castelo Branco region; one civilian seriously injured
  • Planes and helicopters joined more than a thousand firefighters in central Portugal Sunday to battle huge wildfires in a mountainous region

  • The biggest effort -- 760 firefighters, 230 vehicles and 11 planes and helicopters -- battled to douse flames in the municipality of Vila de Rei

  • Four firefighters were also reported injured, and a further three were hurt after their fire engine collided with another

Amendoa: Planes and helicopters joined more than a thousand firefighters in central Portugal Sunday to battle huge wildfires in a mountainous region where over 100 people died in huge blazes in 2017.

By 9:30 am (0830 GMT), one of the biggest mobilisations ever seen in the area -- including 1,100 firefighters and 340 vehicles -- had been deployed to fight the blazes in the heavily forested Castelo Branco region, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon, the rescue services said.

Over 1000 firefighters planes helicopters battle wildfires in Portugals Castelo Branco region one civilian seriously injured

In this grab taken from video on Saturday, July 20, 2019 provided by TVI, members of the emergency services try to extinguish wildfires, in Vila de Rei, Portugal. AP

The biggest effort -- 760 firefighters, 230 vehicles and 11 planes and helicopters -- battled to douse flames in the municipality of Vila de Rei, which had spread nearly 25 kilometres. One seriously injured civilian was evacuated by helicopter to Lisbon, the commander of the Civil Protection for the region, Luis Belo Costa, told a news conference.

Four firefighters were also reported injured, and a further three were hurt after their fire engine collided with another. "Given the difficult terrain, we have not succeeded in getting the fire in Vila de Rei under control, but have only contained about 60 percent of it, despite a lull in the wind," Belo Costa said.

The army said in a statement it was dispatching 20 soldiers and machinery to open routes "to facilitate access" for the firefighters. In a message, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa expressed his "solidarity with the hundreds fighting the scourge of the fires".

Two other forest fires reported on Saturday have since been brought under control. While a number of small villages were evacuated as a precaution overnight, no additional measures were planned on Sunday. But that could change "if the situation deteriorates," Belo Costa said.

Five regions of central and southern Portugal were on maximum fire alert Sunday because of the dry weather and winds. However, temperatures are currently below the threshold of 41 degrees Celsius at which a red alert is triggered.

The fires, fanned by strong winds, had broken out on Saturday afternoon in the more inaccessible areas in the Castelo Branco region.

The centre of Portugal is hilly and covered in dense forest and is regularly ravaged by fires, including the deadliest in the country's history where 114 people died in two separate blazes in June and October 2017. Portugal is still traumatised by those deaths, with authorities taking extra precautions.

Much of the population in the area is elderly, as young people move to the cities. The forests are largely eucalyptus, a highly flammable wood used in the paper industry. Despite the combustion risks, the trees are planted because they are fast-growing and represent an important source of income for locals.

With fields and pastures abandoned, the forests are poorly maintained, with the dense undergrowth facilitating the spread of the fires.

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