Portuguese wildfires encircle Algarve resort town

Lisbon (AFP) –


Hundreds of Portuguese firefighters and soldiers battled ferocious forest fires that threatened to engulf an Algarve resort town Tuesday, after sweltering temperatures kindled blazes that have whipped across the region.

A heatwave across Europe sent the mercury above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in some areas of Portugal at the weekend, with fire crews struggling to extinguish wildfires around Monchique that have left 29 people injured, one seriously.

Fire crews used aeroplanes and helicopters as well as several hundred vehicles Tuesday in a fresh attempt to contain the blazes, which have raged for days stoked by strong winds.

The wildfires, which have consumed some 15,000 hectares (76,000 acres) of forest, crept closer to the enclave overnight, leaving behind a blackened path of charred houses and incinerated cars.

"There are several main homes affected. But for the moment we are not yet able to make an assessment," said Monchique mayor Rui Andre, according to local media.

A 76-year-old woman has been sent to hospital in Lisbon for treatment due to the fires, which took hold last week around the Monchique mountain range at the highest point of the Algarve tourist region.

Authorities had hoped to contain the fires on Monday, but the country's civil protection service said that strong winds had revived the flames, "which immediately took on large proportions".

The difficulty in bringing the fires under control has raised eyebrows after the Portuguese authorities brought in various measures in a bid to avoid a repetition of fires that killed at least 114 people last year.

Despite significant resources, the fire continues to "destroy homes" and threaten an "urban perimeter," the National Association of Professional Firefighters and the Union of Professional Firefighters said in a joint statement.

In the Valencia region of neighbouring Spain some 2,500 people were driven from their homes overnight to escape flames that have already swept across around 1,000 hectares, as fire crews struggled to bring the fires under control.