Three dead as wildfires sweep across Madeira

At least three people have been killed and about 1,000 evacuated as wildfires sweep the Portuguese island of Madeira and threaten the capital, Funchal.

The head of Madeira’s regional government, Miguel Albuquerque, said the three elderly victims had died in two houses in the early hours of Wednesday. Another person was reported missing. Albuquerque said more than 300 people had to be treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns.

The blaze, fuelled by hot weather and strong winds, led to the evacuation of about 1,000 local people and tourists in the archipelago off north-western Africa. About 30 houses and a five-star hotel have been devoured by the fire.

Flames licked at homes around Funchal, casting a plume of smoke over the centre, according to video broadcast by cable news channel SIC Notícias.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–><!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>People take pictures of the smoke rising from a wildfire at Curral dos Romeiros in Funchal.





Pinterest
People take pictures of the smoke rising from a wildfire at Curral dos Romeiros in Funchal. Photograph: Joana Sousa/AFP/Getty Images

Residents used garden hosepipes and buckets of water to keep the flames at bay as wind blew embers across roads.

Fire service officials said Madeira’s steep hills and dense woodland made it hard to reach the flames.

Eight firefighters required medical treatment after inhaling smoke as high winds fuelled the blaze. More than 200 patients were evacuated from a small hospital as a precaution, authorities said.

On Tuesday, officials said the fire encroaching Funchal was under control and expressed hope that cooler temperatures forecast for Wednesday would help put it out.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–><!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>A man gestures at a burning house as a wildfire spreads at Bom Sucesso in Funchal.





Pinterest
A man gestures at a burning house as a wildfire spreads at Bom Sucesso in Funchal. Photograph: Duarte Sa/Reuters

Other wildfires have raged for several days on the Portuguese mainland. By Tuesday evening, fire officials said seven blazes in the countryside were out of control. The National Civil Protection Service said just over 4,000 firefighters, supported by 26 water-dumping planes and 1,262 vehicles, were attending 149 blazes of varying sizes across the country.

August – when temperatures are high, winds blow strongly and woodland is parched – is traditionally the peak time for wildfires in Portugal and other southern European countries. Portuguese officials say fires are often started deliberately and spread quickly because forests are not cleared of dead wood.

Some of the worst-hit areas were in northern Portugal, where temperatures have exceeded 30C (86F) in recent days. The region’s pine and eucalyptus forests are tinder-dry after a long spell without significant rain.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–><!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>A firefighter stands on the roof of a house and tries to extinguish a wildfire at Curral dos Romeiros.





Pinterest
A firefighter stands on the roof of a house and tries to extinguish a wildfire at Curral dos Romeiros. Photograph: Joana Sousa/AFP/Getty Images

In the area around Viseu, 180 miles (290km) north of the capital, Lisbon, a wildfire forced the closure of a major highway. In nearby Agueda, roads were closed and power lines were cut by wildfires.

In Lisbon, Tuesday was hazy with the smell of smoke from wildfires in the surrounding region.

Fire chiefs said some firefighters were exhausted after trying to put out blazes non-stop since Saturday, the hottest day of the year so far when temperatures reached 44C.

Advertisements