Wildfire-plagued Portugal declares public calamity as 2,000 people trapped

Forest fires have cut off a town of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggle to control two large blazes in the centre of the country

18 August 2017, 8:41am
People watch a firefighting plane drop water to stop a raging forest blaze reaching their houses near Mação, central Portugal
People watch a firefighting plane drop water to stop a raging forest blaze reaching their houses near Mação, central Portugal
Forest fires have cut off a town of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggle to control two large blazes in the centre of the country.

Parts of the country were declared in a state of public calamity on Thursday as the government put emergency services on alert for further outbreaks.

The blaze erupted on Tuesday evening, and by Thursday morning it had surrounded the town of Mação.

“It’s impossible to leave or to enter Mação because of the flames and the smoke,” mayor Vasco Estrela told Lusa news agency. “It is continuing unabated,” he said.

Rescuers have evacuated about 130 people from nearby villages, said Patrícia Gaspar, spokeswoman for the civil protection agency (ANPC).

A large fire destroyed 80-90% of the Mação municipality at the end of July, Estrela pointed out.

The town has borne the brunt of a heatwave that has settled over much of southern Europe, and more than three times as much forest has burned down in the country this summer as in an average year.

It said on Thursday the state of calamity would trigger "preventative effects" in the central and northern interior and parts of the southern Algarve region, while the meteorological office forecast temperatures would top 40 degrees centigrade in some places by Sunday.

Firefighters were also concerned about forecasts for hotter weather, which would increarse the risk of extinguished fires reigniting and blazes erupting at new sites, Gaspar said.