Sunday 21 October 2018

Raging wildfires kill at least 35 in Portugal and Spain

Volunteers use a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. At least six people were killed Sunday as hundreds of forest fires spread across Portugal fueled by high temperatures, strong winds and a persistent drought. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Volunteers use a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. At least six people were killed Sunday as hundreds of forest fires spread across Portugal fueled by high temperatures, strong winds and a persistent drought. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A burnt house is seen following a forest fire in Vila Nova, near Vouzela, Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Flames from a forest fire are seen next to highway A17, near to Paiao, Portugal October 16, 2017, in this still images obtained from social media video. MIGUEL GOMES/ via REUTERS
A volunteers uses a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
People push a van that got stuck bringing water for volunteers to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
People watch a wildfire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A fire engine maneuvers to get through to the backyard of a house as a wildfire approached houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A man walks through burned houses following a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere, Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A burned house is seen following a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Burnt houses are seen in the aftermath of a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A woman walks down a road in the aftermath of a forest fire near Vale do Couco , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Burnt houses are seen in the aftermath of a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A burned vehicle is seen following a forest fire near Vale do Couco, Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A man looks at the remains of a burned coach after a wild fire in Pontevedra, in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Spain on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Lalo R. Villar)
Residents walk past a burnt bus as a wild fire moves forward in Chandebrito, Pontevedra, in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Spain on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Alba Sotelo)

Andrei Khalip and Raquel Castillo

At least 35 people died in wildfires raging through parched farmlands and forests in Portugal and neighbouring Spain on Sunday and Monday, officials said.

Portugal, still recovering from its deadliest forest fire on record in June when 64 people were killed, bore the brunt of the latest death toll - 32, with the possibility of rising further, according to the authorities.

Firefighters were still battling 50 blazes in Portugal and a similar number in Spain. Portugal's government asked for international help and declared a state of emergency in territory north of the Tagus river - about half of its landmass.

"We are facing new (weather) conditions ... In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world," Portuguese Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa said, citing the fires burning in California.

A volunteers uses a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A volunteers uses a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

Flames ripped across Iberian countryside left tinder-dry by an unusually hot summer and early autumn, fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed coastal areas.

Officials in Portugal and Spain said arsonists had started some of the blazes.

The weekend's fires had also injured 56 people in Portugal, civil protection service spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said. The toll could still increase as seven people were unaccounted for.

Water-spraying planes could not be deployed in most fires due to gigantic plumes of smoke affecting visibility.

A fire engine maneuvers to get through to the backyard of a house as a wildfire approached houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
A fire engine maneuvers to get through to the backyard of a house as a wildfire approached houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 16 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

But she said rains expected late on Monday and on Tuesday in the north of the country were likely to bring some relief.

In June, 64 people died in a huge forest fire in central Portugal.

A man walks through burned houses following a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere, Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
A man walks through burned houses following a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere, Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

The government has been criticised for a slow, inefficient response and a lack of fire-prevention policies in a country with the largest woodland areas burned by wildfires in Europe.

Portugal's fires burned over 40 percent of the total in all of the European Union this year. With just 2.1 percent of the EU's landmass, Portugal was its biggest burner during 2008-16 as well, with an average of 36 percent of the total.

Burnt houses are seen in the aftermath of a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Burnt houses are seen in the aftermath of a forest fire in Pinheiro do Azere , Portugal, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

At the heart of the issue lie age-old traditions in management of the land, made up mostly of small plots that have become fire hazards after they were abandoned by new generations of landholders who moved to the cities.

Three people died in Spain's Galicia region - two of them women found inside a burnt-out car, the third a man in his seventies, killed as he tried to save his farm animals, media reported.

Most of the fires in Galicia were started deliberately, the head of the regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said in a radio interview.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said some of those responsible had already been identified. They could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted, police said. At least one person was arrested in Portugal for allegedly starting a fire.

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