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Wildfires rage in Spain, Portugal as fourth firefighter killed

Update: August, 28/2013 - 12:35

ALAGOA, Portugal – Firefighters and local residents struggled onTuesday to tackle raging wildfires that have consumed large swathes of forest in Portugal and Spain, claiming the lives of four emergency workers.

"This cursed fire won't give us a break and seems hellbent on destroying everything in its path," said Manuel Pinto, a resident of Povoa in central Portugal who was beating back the flames with a branch alongside exhausted firefighters.

A volunteer firefighter who tackled the same blaze as a female colleague killed last week in the mountains of central Portugal has died from his injuries, his commander Carlos Coelho said on Tuesday.

The 23-year-old's death brings the number of emergency responders killed in Portugal's August fires to four.

A spokesman for the Portuguese ministry of defence said on Tuesday that the army is ready to intervene if the situation worsens.

More than 800 firefighters were mobilised in Portugal to tackle the blazes, which have intensified overnight due to high winds.

In central Portugal, desperate residents also helped as the blazes continued.

Around the village of Oliveira de Frades, flames more than 10 metres high threatened houses. The population was mobilised to try to prevent new outbreaks of fire.

Maria de Fatima was one of those making trips with black plastic buckets filled with water to protect her house.

"Since Sunday it does not stop. That night the fire came to the village. It breaks my heart!" she said, staring at the burned forest.

A spokesman for Portugal's emergencies agency repeated his call for France to remain in the country after two French planes were dispatched to drop water on affected regions this week.

"The French mission is supposed to be completed on Thursday, but we asked for an extension. We are waiting for a response," said Miguel Cruz, spokesman for the Civil Protection Authority.

Two Spanish planes had also helped Portuguese authorities take on the fires but returned home at the weekend.

Cruz said Portugal would not ask neighbouring Spain for more help because of their own "difficult situation," as firefighters and water-dumping planes battled a large wildfire in Spain's northwest that drove residents from their homes, according to officials.

The blaze, one of hundreds to ravage Spain's parched land over the summer, broke out late Monday near Oia, a village on the Atlantic coast near the border with Portugal.

Firefighters backed by aeroplanes and helicopters were battling to curb flames that ravaged 1,200ha as they spread, the regional government said in a statement.

An alert was declared after the fire came close to some houses and residents were evacuated, an official in the Galicia region rural affairs ministry said, but no one was reported hurt.

"The situation has improved since last night," the official said. "We are not aware of the fire reaching any houses, although there were some evacuations."

The official could not say how many people were evacuated but Spanish newspapers said the figure was at least 176.

The ministry said firefighters had controlled four other fires in the region in recent days, which burned thousands of ha between them.

The central government said it had sent firefighting planes and personnel to the Oia fire and two others, in the Asturias region and the Tarragona area west of Barcelona.

Spain and Portugal are prone to forest fires in summer because of soaring temperatures, strong winds and dry vegetation. – afp


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