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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Major forest fire on Portugal's Madeira islands burns homes

A firefighter works to stop a fire in Quintela, near Arouca, in the region of Aveiro, northern Portugal (AP)
A firefighter works to stop a fire in Quintela, near Arouca, in the region of Aveiro, northern Portugal (AP)

A major forest fire on Portugal's Madeira Islands has destroyed at least six homes and forced the evacuation of more than 400 people, officials said.

Cooler overnight temperatures briefly helped Portuguese firefighters battle other wildfires that have raged for several days on the mainland, although seven major wildfires were still out of control and 125 other blazes were being fought by mid-afternoon.

The month of August - when temperatures are high, winds blow strongly and woodland is parched - is traditionally the peak time for wildfires in Portugal and other southern European countries.

Portuguese officials say fires are often started deliberately and spread quickly because forests are not cleared of dead wood.

Flames licked at homes around Madeira's capital, Funchal, encroaching on the suburbs and casting a smoke plume over the city centre, according to video broadcast by cable news channel SIC Noticias.

Frantic locals used garden hosepipes and buckets of water to keep the flames at bay as wind blew embers across roads.

Fire service officials said Madeira's steep hills and dense woodland made it hard to reach the flames. Police said they arrested a man suspected of starting the fire.

Eight firefighters in Madeira required medical treatment after inhaling smoke as high winds fuelled the blaze on the island off north-west Africa.

More than 200 patients were evacuated from a small hospital as a precaution, authorities said.

The National Civil Protection Service said 3,300 firefighters supported by 23 water-dumping aircraft were in action on the mainland.

The worst-hit areas were in northern Portugal, where temperatures have exceeded 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) since Saturday.

The region's pine and eucalyptus forests are tinder-dry after a long spell without significant rain.

In the area around Viseu, 290km (180 miles) north of Lisbon, the capital, a wildfire forced the closure of a major motorway. In nearby Agueda, roads were closed and power lines were cut by wildfires.


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