Death toll mounts in Portugal as forest fires spread


PORTUGAL: Three more people have died in a wave of forest fires in central Portugal, bringing to six the number killed in the past week in the country's worst blazes for two decades, officials said yesterday.

Cmdr Antonio Roaldinho, duty officer at the National Rescue Operations Centre, said the bodies of two women were found in Chamusca, which is about 100 km northeast of Lisbon.

A man of 50 was overcome by flames as he tried to escape by tractor from a fire near Ponte de Sor, 100 km east of Lisbon.

Three people died last week in blazes that have spread in unusually hot, dry weather with strong winds fanning the flames.

A fireman also died when a water-carrying truck in which he was travelling crashed near Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, 300 km northeast of the capital.

More than 2,800 firefighters and 400 soldiers are fighting dozens of blazes.

They are equipped with 500 vehicles and water-bombing planes sent by Italy and Morocco in response to an international appeal for help by the Portuguese government.

Just over the border in southwestern Spain, helicopters and fire-fighting planes battled forest fires in a record-breaking heatwave that has killed seven in the country.

Cmdr Roaldinho said emergency workers were desperate to prevent fires sweeping through several Portuguese towns, including Macao, about 120 km northeast of Lisbon.

Eyewitnesses reported that several houses had burned down in Macao and residents were carrying buckets of water to help firefighters battle the blaze street by street.

One blaze, extinguished on Friday after three days, burned down more than 11,000 hectares of mostly pinewood forest in the biggest fire tallied by the government in 15 years.

In Canada, emergency crews battling the worst fire season in British Columbia for half a century were hoping yesterday for a break in the wind to help them control three mountain fires that have forced the evacuation of an estimated 8,500 people.

Hundreds of residents have been warned to be ready to leave at short notice, because of the three large fires near Kamloops that continue to burn out of control despite the work of water bombers and ground crews.