Portugal on high alert as firefighters fight fire

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal will be on high alert as more than 850 firefighters are fighting to put out a fire that will sweep through part of the country’s central region on Sunday, with strong winds and high temperatures complicating efforts to fight the fire. .

The forest fire has started in the municipality of Oleiros since Saturday afternoon, but it has spread to two neighboring municipalities and has already forced the preventive evacuation of several people.

A 21-year-old firefighter died in a car accident Saturday night while fighting the fire, and seven others were injured, including a civilian.

“I would like to send a word of solidarity, encouragement and thanks to the firefighters … for the work they do for Portugal and for all of us,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a statement.

Portugal’s government issued the “alert situation” for the entire country on Monday and Tuesday, raising the preparedness levels of firefighters, police and emergency medical services. There is a ban on lighting fires and access to forests will be limited.

High temperatures are expected to continue, the country’s meteorological agency IPMA said, and the temperature in the Castelo Branco district, where the affected municipalities are located, is expected to reach 38C on Monday.

Luis Belo Costa, commander of Castelo Branco, said at a press conference that several houses were at risk due to the fire near isolated villages.

“There were houses hit by the flames,” said Belo Costa. “The people were evacuated, but most have already returned home.”

There were no immediate estimates of property damage.

Portugal’s internal affairs minister Eduardo Cabrita said it could take firefighters until Tuesday or Wednesday to control the forest fire.

“This is a very large fire, covering an already considerable area,” Belo Costa said.

On Twitter, European crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic said authorities were “closely following the forest fires” in Portugal.

“Our thoughts go out to everyone affected,” said Lenarcic.

The fires are small compared to a fire that struck the region in June 2017, killing 66 people and injuring more than 250.

Data from the European Union show that Portugal is one of the countries most affected by fires in the EU every year.

One of the main causes of its frequent forest fires is that parts of the interior of the country are deserted, since people have gone to live in cities or abroad, and the work of cleaning trees and shrubs is neglected, creating a risk of fire.

Reports by Catarina Demony, Raissa Kasolowsky and Jane Merriman Edition

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