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At Least 34 Killed in Wildfires Ravaging Portugal, Spain

  • VOA News

A man looks at the remains of a burned coach after a wild fire in Pontevedra, in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, Spain, Oct. 16, 2017.

At least 34 people have died after wildfires ravaged Portugal and Spain’s Galicia region, rescuers said on Monday.

In Portugal, at least 31 people died in fires that blazed through forests in the northern and central parts of the country, causing residents to flee towns and villages, and injuring more than 50 people. Local media reports said several people are still missing, including a one-month old baby.

Three people have been reported dead in Spain; two victims were found in a burned-out car on the side of the road.

Volunteers use a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Oct. 16 2017.
Volunteers use a water hose to fight a wild fire raging near houses in the outskirts of Obidos, Portugal, in the early hours of Oct. 16 2017.

In Portugal, the government declared a state of emergency for regions north of the Tajo river. More than 6,000 firefighters in 1,800 vehicles were deployed by early Monday morning.

Winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames of the wildfires that Portuguese and Spanish authorities said were sparked by arsonists.

“They are absolutely intentional fires, premeditated, caused by people who knew what they are doing,” said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, the head of the Galicia government.

Juan Ignacio Zoido, Spain’s interior minister, said in a tweet that several people had already been identified in connection with the fires. He appealed for people with further information to share it with the national protection service.

Wildfires are an annual problem in Portugal, where strong winds off the Atlantic blow into a hot and dry country. In June, a massive forest wildfire killed 64 people and injured 150 people. Scientists say climate change has extended the wildfire season from two to five months.

FILE - A fire fighting aircraft drops water over a fire outside the village of Pedrogao Grande central Portugal, June 19, 2017.
FILE - A fire fighting aircraft drops water over a fire outside the village of Pedrogao Grande central Portugal, June 19, 2017.

The fires were caused by “higher than average temperatures for the season and the cumulative effect of drought, which has been felt since the start of the year,” Patricia Gaspar, Portuguese civil protection agency spokeswoman, said.

The Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, who is from Galicia, said he was returning to the region to see the emergency coordination himself.

Light rainfall early Monday is expected to help extinguish the flames.

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