Wildfires cut off village of 2 000

Macao. – Forest fires cut off a village of 2 000 people in Portugal, as fire-fighters struggled on Thursday to control two major blazes in the centre of the country, local officials said. And with another wave of hot weather forecast, the government declared a state of emergency in some central and northern regions.

Summer has seen a record number of fires and Portugal’s Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa has blamed arsonists and human negligence for most of them.

Vasco Estrela, the mayor of the embattled village of Macao, told the Lusa news agency: “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Macao because of the flames and the smoke.”

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, grew stronger through Wednesday and by early Thursday had surrounded the village, he said, adding: “The fire is continuing unabated.” Already at the end of July, a major fire had destroyed between 80 and 90 percent of the village, he said.

The emergency services have had to remove around 130 people from nearby villages, said Patricia Gaspar, spokesperson for Portugal’s civil protection agency, the ANPC.

Authorities added that the fires have left 92 people injured, seven seriously. The main road in the region was again cut off on Thursday. Fires also disrupted traffic on the highway that connects the capital Lisbon to Porto in the north.

But firefighters were most worried about the fires around Macao, which were continuing to advance on several fronts, she added.

The forecast of hotter weather in the coming days – increasing the risk that old fire sites will rekindle or new ones break out – convinced the government to declare the state of emergencies.

This year’s fires are the deadliest the country has endured.

Blazes in mid-June near Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal – about 40km north of Macao – killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others. The flames spread so fast that many people died trapped in their cars, caught in the fires as they tried to drive to safety.

To mark the two months since the tragedy, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo and Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited the affected region Thursday. Costa promised that his government would “authorise reconstruction projects for the damaged homes.”

Firefighters and locals were also struggling on Thursday to control fires in nearby villages, including Sardoal, near Vale Formoso and Alcaravela, AFP journalists at the scene said.

“We came here to help the firefighters as best we can, by putting out smaller fires for example,” said volunteer Ines Azevedo, from neighbouring Mouriscas.

“In a situation this dire, any help is useful.” – AFP.

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