HELENA ALVES and JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BEMPOSTA, Portugal (AP) – More than 3,000 firefighters battled alongside ordinary Portuguese citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the European country on Thursday, fueled by extreme temperatures and droughts linked to with climate change.
The central part of the country has been hit particularly hard by a number of fires this week. In the village of Bemposta, residents used garden hoses to spray the lawns and roofs of their houses in the hope of saving them from the raging wall of red flames that approached through the wooded hills as night fell on Wednesday.
“It started spreading in that direction (to the right), the wind was blowing in that direction towards the mountain,” said Antonio Carmo Pereira, 88, as he pointed to the flames on the outskirts of his village. “I saw the view, but after a few minutes I saw nothing, just smoke.
“(It is) dangerous, yes. It surrounds all the houses,” he said. “I’m scared, but where should I go? Jump into the water tank? Let me stay here and watch.”
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More than 800 firefighters were still battling Thursday morning in the district of Leiria, where Bemposta is located.
Temperatures in the interior of the Atlantic nation are expected to reach 44 C (111 F) during the day as a mass of hot, dry air blown in from Africa continues to linger over the western edge of the Iberian Peninsula. In June, 96% of Portugal was classified as “extreme” or “severe” drought.
The hot air and parched soil combined with the winds created the perfect cocktail of fierce fires.
Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa said Thursday that his government plans to extend the wildfire alert until Sunday, with temperatures expected to remain unusually high in the coming days. The one-week warning was originally announced to last until Friday. The government has temporarily banned public access to forests it deems to be particularly at risk, banned the use of agricultural machinery and banned fireworks.
Costa said firefighters had to respond to 200 different fires on Wednesday and asked his fellow citizens to be extra careful when in rural areas.
“More than ever, we are the ones who have to be extremely careful,” Costa said. “From a small carelessness, a great tragedy can be born.”
About 10,000 hectares (24,700 acres) have burned in Portugal this week, according to the civil protection agency.
Civil protection chief André Fernandes said 135 people, including 70 firefighters, had been injured so far, but there were no confirmed deaths from the fires. Portugal has improved fire safety since wildfires killed more than 100 people.
The European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces new extreme weather that scientists say is caused by climate change.
Neighboring Spain is still battling a blaze sparked by a lightning strike in the west-central Las Hurdes area on Monday, which has burned about 3,500 hectares (8,600 acres).
Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been above 40C (104F) for several days and are expected to remain so until next week.
In France, two wildfires burned out of control in the region around Bordeaux in southwestern France for the third day in a row, despite efforts by 1,000 firefighters and water jets to contain them.
The fires have destroyed more than 3,850 hectares (9,500 acres) of forests and grasslands in the region, regional emergency services said. He said firefighters struggled to contain the fire due to strong winds and difficulty accessing the core of the fire.
In recent days, more than 6,000 people have been evacuated from camps and villages.
Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona, Spain. AP writers Angela Charlton in Paris and Ciarán Giles in Madrid contributed to this report.
Follow all AP news on climate change at https://apnews.com/hub/climate
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