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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Fire-stricken Portugal sees hope
A French firefighter helps fight the flames near Coimbra
Higher humidity has helped efforts to bring some fires under control
Cooler weather in parts of Portugal has helped firefighters bring a series of forest fires raging across forest and scrubland under control.

Thousands of firefighters have been battling the blazes for days in central and northern parts of the country.

Cooler, foggy conditions near the historic city of Coimbra helped crews douse the worst fires, although some smaller ones flared up in strong winds.

At least 15 people have died in the fires and vast areas been left charred.

Forecasters have said the more humid weather should last until at least the weekend, raising hopes that firefighters may keep the upper hand.

Homes evacuated

Water-dropping aircraft provided by other European countries continue to work alongside Portuguese firefighters in the worst-hit areas.

More than 100 homes and 180,000 hectares of land have been destroyed in Portugal this year by the fires, often started deliberately in bone-dry countryside forests.

We can now claim victory... If it remains cool this will remain under control
Paulo Tavares
Firefighter co-ordinator

A summer of drought has sparked fires elsewhere in southern Europe, with Spain and France also fighting flames, while recent heavy rains have brought devastating floods to parts of northern Europe.

More than 400 firefighters remain near the university city of Coimbra to help prevent the flames which have menaced the area since Sunday flaring up again.

Dozens of people have been forced to leave their homes and at least 10 houses on the outskirts of the city have been destroyed by the fires.

Villagers help tackle flames in Penela, near Coimbra
More than 180,000 hectares of land have been destroyed

A state of emergency has been declared in the region, 196km (122 miles) north-east of the capital, Lisbon.

In the Mirando do Corva area of Coimbra, where the biggest stretch of fires has raged, residents cheered as German water-carrying planes flew overhead.

Paulo Tavares, co-ordinating volunteer firefighters from the town of Coja, told the Reuters news agency: "We can now claim victory. At this moment everything is under control - if it remains cool, this will remain under control."

Meanwhile, President Jorge Sampaio urged the government to force landowners to take action to keep forests clear of the scrub which helps wildfires spread.

I have met with firefighters who have been battling blazes since Saturday, with just short breaks of just a few hours to rest
Duarte Caldeira
League of Portuguese Firefighters

"We must improve management of Portugal's forests," he said. "From September, all our energies must be focused on this."

Duarte Caldeira, of the League of Portuguese Firefighters, said the mainly volunteer firefighting force would suffer exhaustion if the fires continued until the end of the month.

"The firefighting forces are at their limit," he told daily newspaper Correio da Manha. "I have met with firefighters who have been battling blazes since Saturday, with just short breaks of just a few hours to rest."

Mr Sampaio repeated an appeal for Portuguese employers to release any workers trained as firefighters to join the battle against the flames.

In pictures: Portugal fires rage
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14 Jul 05 |  Europe


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