Forest fires kill three in 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 spate of blazes for two decades.

Commander Antonio Roaldinho, duty officer at the National Rescue Operations Centre, said today the bodies of two women were found in Chamusca, which is about 100 km (62 miles) 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 (187 miles) 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.

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

Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso told state radio he had called an extraordinary cabinet meeting for Monday to coordinate efforts to limit damage from Portugal's worst fires in 20 years.

The Forestry Department said that apart from releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gas, the destruction of forests that cover about a third of Portugal made the country more prone to desertification.