LISBON, Aug 8 — Hundreds of Portuguese firefighters and soldiers battled ferocious forest fires that threatened to engulf an Algarve resort town yesterday as meteorologists warned of “significant winds” to come.
Sweltering temperatures kindled blazes that have whipped across the region as the Europe-wide heatwave sent the mercury above 45 in some areas of Portugal at the weekend.
Fire crews struggled to extinguish wildfires around the mountain town of Monchique of 6,000 inhabitants that have left 30 people injured, one seriously.
Hundreds of residents were forced to leave their homes while British and other tourists were evacuated from a luxury hotel.
Images released by the European Space Agency appear to show the fires are visible from the International Space Station.
Interior minister Eduardo Cabrito said the relief effort was being coordinated at a “national level” which will “allow greater mobilisation of resources” as meteorologists predicted “significant winds in the coming hours”.
However, firefighters criticised the lack of coordination.
Fernando Curto, the president of the National Association of Professional Firefighters told Radio Renasceneca: “I spoke to one of my colleagues who is in the Algarve to fight the fires and he told me that it was totally disorganised. In certain aspects, nobody understands each other.”
Responding to firefighters’ calls to meet the interior minister, Cabrito said: “We do not take stock in the heat of battle. Our priority now is to fight this fire.”
Around 250 people were evacuated on Monday evening from villages around Monchique, which is known for its spa and is located in the mountain range of the same name, around 160km south of Lisbon.
On Sunday night, a group of mainly English guests were evacuated from a five-star resort high in the hills to other hotels in the area.
But Fernando Rosa, the owner of a restaurant in the nearby village of Foia, said he would stay put “otherwise all of this will burn.”
“I work here! It is the restaurant my parents opened 46 years ago, I am not going to let it burn,” he told AFPTV.
Fire crews used planes and helicopters as well as several hundred vehicles yesterday in a fresh attempt to contain the blazes, which have raged since Friday, stoked by the strong winds.
Lower overnight temperatures and higher air humidity levels could help in the battle against the blaze, which has been “extremely aggressive”, Patricia Gaspar, a civil protection service spokeswoman, told a televised news conference.
The wildfires, which have consumed some 15,000 hectares of forest, crept closer to the enclave overnight, leaving behind a blackened path of charred houses and incinerated cars.
“There are several main homes affected. But for the moment we are not yet able to make an assessment,” said Monchique mayor Rui Andre, according to local media.
By yesterday afternoon the flames were about 500m from a fire station and a 17th-century convent. The blaze has also damaged about 40km of power lines.
Meanwhile a 76-year-old woman has been sent to hospital in Lisbon for treatment due to the fires, which took hold last week around Monchique at the highest point of the Algarve tourist region.
The difficulty in bringing the fires under control has raised eyebrows after the Portuguese authorities brought in various measures in a bid to avoid a repetition of fires that killed at least 114 people last year.
Despite significant resources, the fire continues to “destroy homes” and threaten an “urban perimeter,” the National Association of Professional Firefighters and the Union of Professional Firefighters said in a joint statement. — AFP