‘Terrorist Arsonists’ Blamed For Deadly Fires In Portugal And Spain

Firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire close to the village of Constante, in Galicia, northwestern Spain. Several forest fires are active in Galicia burning more than 4,000 hectares, and they are aggravated with high temperatures and drought/Photo: EPA
‘Terrorist Arsonists’ Blamed For Deadly Fires In Portugal And Spain

A man who drove through raging wildfires in Portugal says luck was on his side after he filmed himself escaping the deadly blazes ravaging the region.

Wildfires have killed at least 35 people across Portugal and Spain as hundreds of blazes were fanned by strong winds caused by a hurricane, authorities said on Monday.

Thirty-one people – including a one-month-old baby – in Portugal have died and dozens have been injured, most of them firefighters, during fires raging in central and northern areas of the country.

Portugal’s civil protection service said as of Monday morning, firefighters were fighting 145 separate blazes across the country, dozens of which are considered to still be serious.

In the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, authorities said that four people had died, two of them trapped in a car, as a result of blazes that were threatening inhabited areas prompting the evacuation of thousands.

Authorities in both countries said that the strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia in the Atlantic Ocean and high temperatures fanned the fires.

Investigations were also focusing on human and criminal causes, with political leaders accusing ‘terrorist arsonists’ of starting the blazes.

Survivor Renato Teixeira, from Coimbra, posted a video of his near escape on the A17 motorway near Vagos, Portugal, on his Facebook page alongside the message: ‘Today luck was on my side. I was dying.’

Renato could be heard shouting ‘How hot it is’ as he filmed burning toll booths on the smoke-filled motorway from a dashboard camera.

He attempted to stay calm despite the obvious danger surrounding him as sparks flew across the road from the flames just feet away and he shouted to himself: ‘Don’t stop, don’t stop’.

The intense heat from the encroaching fire made him groan with agony as he tried to keep his hands on the wheel and he could be heard trying to control his breathing so he could tackle the stress he felt.

Rescue team worker Helio Madeiras posted a stunning picture on his Facebook showing a huge forest fire in Vieira de Leiria.

The government in Portugal declared a state of emergency for regions north of the Tajo river after Sunday was described as ‘the worst day of the year in terms of forest fires’ by Civil Protection spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar.

In Spain, more than 500 military personnel and 350 brigades are fighting the fires.

Among the dead in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia are a 19-year-old pregnant woman, who was killed as she hit another car while trying flee the flames.

In Portugal, two people died when they became trapped in their van in Chandebrito, in the municipality of Pontevedra Nigrán, and a 67-year-old man in Carballeda de Avia (Ourense) died when he tried to extinguish the flames that surrounded his house.

Gaspar said deaths occurred in the districts of Coimbra, Castelo Branco, Viseu and Guarda. In addition to the dead, 51 people have been injured, including 15 in serious condition, Gaspar said. She also said that an unknown number of people were still missing.

Houses, factories and other infrastructure had been destroyed in more than 440 forest fires, 33 of them considered to be major. 

The fires prompted the evacuation of hundreds of people. The fatalities in Spain were reported in the districts of Coimbra, Castelo Branco and Viseu.

The weekend fires come only three months after a wildfire in Portugal killed 64 people in Pedrogao Grande in early summer – 47 of them on one road while trying to flee the flames in cars.

An independent investigation into the June fires found last week that authorities failed to evacuate villages on time. The fire destroyed about 29,000 hectares, (nearly 72,000 acres).

In the recent weekend fires, thousands of acres of land in Spain have been calcined and schools in Vigo and Pontevedra, as well as the University of Vigo, have suspended classes. 

At least 17 fires were close to inhabited areas, many of them in the Vigo province of Spain, leading to emergency services and police to evacuate thousands, the regional government’s environmental department said.

About 1,000 workers in a factory in Vigo were evacuated, together with other warehouses, and the flames have come dangerously close to closely populated areas. 

Residents wearing masks came out of their homes with buckets to try and quench the flames.

President of the local government Alberto Núñez Feijoo said that arsonists are almost certainly to blame as 25 new fires were started in the early hours of Monday.

He said ‘Galicia is fed up’ with being attacked by arsonists who make the most of weather conditions, adding that some purposely tried to cause most damage by targeting urban areas.   

He said that those responsible have taken advantage of the weather conditions, high winds and drought, to start them and cause more havoc.

He has described those responsible as ‘terrorist arsonists’, and warned: ‘They are playing with lives.’ 

A number of people are said to be ‘under suspicion’ but no arrests have yet been made. 

Feijoo said that 15 fires are posing a risk to towns. He added that 90 percent of forest fires each year in Galicia are intentional.

He told reporters: ‘All of Galicia is weeping this morning for our razed hills, but especially for the loss of human lives.’  

Spanish Prime Minister Marian Rajoy, who is from Galicia, traveled to the region Monday to visit an emergency response center. 

In Portugal, 12 of the 38 people being treated for burns at Viseu Hospital were described as ‘serious.’

Two people in Penacova near the university city of Coimbra and two in Oliveira do Hospital a 45-minute drive east were also said to be among the dead.

Passengers on a coach covering the route between Viseu and Coimbra told of their brush with death after being surrounded by flames and having to abandon the vehicle near Penacova with the help of firefighters.

Ema Fonseca, a university student who was returning to Coimbra for lessons, said: ‘The coach was full with some 48 people on board.

‘Suddenly everything went black and a few miles afterwards all we saw were flames. The heat inside the coach was unbearable. We began to shout and the coach began to shake. I thought I was going to die.’ 

Twenty-five roads in the north and centre of Portugal remained closed to traffic on Monday because of the fires.

Portugal’s Secretary of State of Internal Administration Jorge Gomes appealed for international help to combat the wildfires, which are being tackled by nearly 6,000 people using more than 1,780 vehicles.

Some of the fires in Portugal have crossed the Spanish border into Galicia, and thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.

Galician President Alberto Nunez Feijoo described the situation as ‘critical’, although light rain was aiding things following perfect conditions for the wildfires of strong winds brought in by the tail-end of Hurricane Ophelia and high temperatures after a period of drought.

He also pointed the finger at arsonists he said had started many of the fires.

Claiming firefighters had been tackling ‘homicide incendiary activity’ in the worst possible weather conditions, the Galician leader said: ‘We are dealing with deliberately-started fires by people who know what to burn, how to burn it and the places to pick.’

Distressing footage show panicked locals driving along smoke-filled roads with walls of flames either side.

In the coastal resort town of Baiona in southern Galicia, people were filmed abandoning their homes as they were surrounded by fire.

Between Friday and Sunday afternoon, 146 fires were recorded in Galicia, with 60 recorded on Sunday and 28 in the early hours of Monday, between midnight and ten in the morning.

At dawn on Monday morning, 105 fires were still active, according to the authorities, but more have been started.

Portuguese PM Antonio Costa reacted to the new tragedy by declaring a state of national calamity north of the Tagus to ensure the mobilisation of more firefighters to tackle the blazes.

Predicting a very difficult day and saying the number of people who were injured and unaccounted meant he couldn’t rule out more deaths, he added: ‘Situations like this are likely to repeat themselves. There are no magic solutions.’

Source/The Daily Mail

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