Wildfires kill 35 in Portugal and Spain

  • 17/10/2017

At least 35 people have died in wildfires raging through parched farmlands and forests in Portugal and neighbouring Spain.

Portugal, still recovering from its deadliest forest fire on record in June when 64 people were killed, bore the brunt of the latest death toll, 32, with the possibility of rising further, according to the authorities.

Firefighters were still battling 50 blazes in Portugal and a similar number in Spain. Portugal's government asked for international help and declared a state of emergency in territory north of the Tagus river, about half of its landmass.

"We are facing new (weather) conditions ... In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world," Portuguese Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa said on Monday, citing the fires burning in California.

Flames ripped across Iberian countryside left tinder-dry by an unusually hot summer and early autumn on Sunday and Monday, fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed coastal areas.

Officials in Portugal and Spain said arsonists had started some of the blazes.

The weekend's fires had also injured 56 people in Portugal, civil protection service spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said. The toll could still increase as seven people were unaccounted for.

Water-spraying planes could not be deployed in most fires because gigantic plumes of smoke affected visibility.

But she said rains expected late on Monday and on Tuesday in the north of the country were likely to bring some relief.

Three people died in Spain's Galicia region, two of them women found inside a burnt-out car, the third a man in his 70s, killed as he tried to save his farm animals, media reported.

Most of the fires in Galicia were started deliberately, the head of the regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said in a radio interview.

Spanish Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said some of those responsible had already been identified. They could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted, police said.

At least one person was arrested in Portugal for allegedly starting a fire.