August 6, 2018 / 11:26 AM / 2 months ago

Wildfire surges back in Portugal's Algarve, 1,000 firefighters mobilized

MONCHIQUE, Portugal (Reuters) - More than 1,150 firefighters battled resurging flames as huge fires swept the forested hills of Portugal’s southern Algarve tourist region on Monday, with late winds fanning the blaze and forcing the evacuation of another village.

The fire has injured 25 people and spread quickly over the weekend as a heatwave swept large parts of Europe. Authorities had hoped to control the blaze during the day as temperatures fell slightly, but instead it flared up again.

“Mountains are still burning. Nothing is under control,” said Eulalia Nunes, 46, a music teacher in Monchique. “It’s a horror movie, with sparks falling everywhere. The sky is cloudy and full of smoke and ash in every corner.”

Temperatures reached a peak of nearly 47 degrees Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, and it remains extremely hot in most of Portugal. Authorities have kept sending more firefighters to Monchique over the past 24 hours, with 1,158 mobilized by Monday afternoon.

The army sent 160 soldiers to help with evacuations.

The village of Foia was evacuated on Monday, with authorities taking no chances in a country which had its worst fires in history last year that killed 114 people.

The fire is burning through eucalyptus and pine forests in the hills above the Algarve coast, an area popular with tourists for its hot springs. Two well-known hotels in the village of Monchique were evacuated and closed on Sunday.

A car passes next to a fire near small village of Monchique, Portugal August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

The smoke from the fire could be seen from the coast.

Twenty four people have been treated for light burns and smoke inhalation while one person suffered more serious burns.

While many people were evacuated, Joao Furtado, 60, was forced to hide in a water tank to escape the flames as his house burnt down during the night, according to his sister-in-law.

“He was panicking because he was trapped in the house,” said Maria Helena Furtado. “There was fire everywhere and he couldn’t get out.”

Spain sent three Canadair firefighting planes, bringing a total of 13 aircraft that were dumping water on the flames.

Jorge Botelho, head of civil protection in the region, said between 15,000 hectares and 20,000 hectares of forest had burnt - an area much greater than the size of the capital Lisbon itself.

Authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure there was no repeat of last year’s tragedies, when two deadly fires struck Portugal in June and October, killing a total of 114 people, after an extended drought and hot weather.

Hundreds of new firefighters have been hired and efforts made to clear flammable undergrowth from forests. Until the heatwave this had largely worked, partly as the summer had been unusually cold and wet.

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Writing by Axel Bugge; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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