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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 August, 2003, 01:49 GMT 02:49 UK
Portugal fires destroy vast area
Other EU countries are helping Portugal fight the fires
Forest fires are continuing to burn across Portugal, despite the efforts of thousands of firefighters to contain the flames.

Nine people have died, and more than 53,000 hectares of land have been destroyed so far in the fires, some of which have been burning for more than a week.

The Portuguese Government has declared a national calamity - opening the way to those who have lost property to claim for compensation.

The Portuguese firefighters' association has called on the government to go a step further and declare a national emergency.

Strong winds and record high temperatures have fanned the flames, while the dense smoke has limited the use of water-bombing aircraft.

Europe's scorching summer

The BBC's Claire Marshall, in Porto Alegre, says 3,000 firefighters are continuing to do what they can to contain the blazes but many are exhausted.

One local villager involved in fighting the blazes told the BBC that no-one had seen fires like this in living memory.

Water-carrying planes sent by Italy, Morocco and Spain have dumped hundreds of tonnes of water onto the forests.

It seems as if they are helping at least to contain the worst fires, our correspondent adds.

"We are facing an exceptional situation," Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso said after an emergency Cabinet meeting.

"It's been brought about by absolutely exceptional weather conditions, so we have to respond with exceptional measures."

European heatwave

The government has pledged more than 110m euros ($124m) in aid for people who have lost their jobs and homes, for farmers who have lost crops and livestock and for local councils to rebuild infrastructure.

Click below to see rainfall levels in Europe, April-June 2003

Across the border in Spain, the death toll in the extreme heat rose to seven over the weekend. The victims are thought to have died from the effects of the heat.

Temperatures in the southern region of Andalucia have risen above 40C (104F), with some towns recording their highest-ever temperatures.

Forest fires have continued to burn in Extremadura, a remote region to the north which borders Portugal.

In other parts of Western Europe:

  • Technicians doused the Fessenheim nuclear power station near Strasbourg, France, with cold water to prevent it overheating
  • Police in the Ile de France region around Paris lowered speed limits from 50 km/h (30 mph) to 30 km/h because of ozone levels in the capital 65% above levels considered safe for humans
  • Rail speed restrictions were imposed in the UK amid fears that tracks might buckle in the heat, as weather officials said midweek temperatures could surpass the country's record of 37.1C (98.8F).
  • This year's wheat harvest in the Czech Republic, already hit by poor winter weather, was predicted to plummet to 2.7m tonnes - down from nearly 4m tonnes last year.

Despite the severity of the fires, the Portuguese prime minister rejected calls for the government to declare a national emergency, noting that emergency plans were in place in the three districts where the worst of the fires were concentrated.

Officials say it is impossible to estimate how many homes have burned down.

Portugal has also activated a European Union civil defence mechanism aimed at prompting rapid action by member states to supply manpower and equipment.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Some of these fires have been burning night and day for more than a week"



SEE ALSO:
Drought leaves Europe's farmers helpless
30 Jul 03  |  Science/Nature
In pictures: Portugal blazes
04 Aug 03  |  Photo Gallery
In pictures: Europe's forest fires
22 Jul 03  |  Photo Gallery
Killer storms lash France
16 Jul 03  |  Europe
Europe bakes in historic highs
15 Jul 03  |  Europe
Emergency threat in dry Italy
14 Jul 03  |  Europe


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