Portugal forest fires turn villages ‘into hell’

August 22, 2013 3:47 pm
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More than 800 firefighters tackled fires in central and northern Portugal/AFP
More than 800 firefighters tackled fires in central and northern Portugal/AFP

, LISBON, Aug 22 – Villagers armed with buckets and branches fought wildfires raging in Portugal alongside exhausted emergency workers on Thursday, as Spanish and French reinforcements arrived to tackle the blazes.

Villages surrounding the northern town of Trancoso “were transformed into hell,” emergency services official Jose Oliveira told Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias.

More than 800 firefighters tackled fires in central and northern Portugal while two Spanish jets dropped water on affected areas, while two French aircraft were expected to arrive Thursday to assist with the operation.

In Fornelo do Monte in the the central region of Viseu, villagers fled their homes armed with buckets of water to try to tackle the flames licking the walls of their homes, while others brandished branches in an attempt to extinguish them.

Some residents fought all night alongside overwhelmed firefighters.

The two largest fires were in Viseu, with the government setting the alert level to maximum in 20 districts affected by soaring tempartures and high winds impeding the relief effort.

Three firefighters were injured, one seriously, when a gas container exploded as they approached an empty, burning house in the town, Oliveira added.

Almost 31,000 hectares (77,000 acres) of Portugal’s countryside has already been destroyed by fire this year, according to the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, compared with 110,000 hectares last year.

An electrician for Portuguese energy company EDP was electrocuted Wednesday as he tried to fix an electricity line damaged by a fire near Gois, central Portugal.

Police have questioned 29 people in connection with the fires so far.

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