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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Fires rage in Portugal and Spain
A man tries to fight a forest fire early morning in Boticas, Vila Real, northern Portugal
There are fears this year's fires will be as devastating as last year's
Hundreds of firefighters in Spain and Portugal have been battling raging fires which have destroyed thousands of hectares of forests.

Blazes in southern Spain are said to be some of the worst seen in a decade.

In Portugal, some 400 firefighters backed by several water-bombing planes battled fires in the popular southern tourist region of the Algarve.

The Alentejo regions and the Serra da Arrabida mountains south of Lisbon have also been affected.

At least 14,000 hectares (34,594 acres) have burned in parts of the southern Spanish region of Andalucia since fires broke out there earlier this week.

"It has been the largest fire for the last 10 years in Andalucia," said Ana Fernandez from Plan Infoca, the region's task force against forest fires.

A total of 41,084 hectares (101,000 acres) have burnt in Spain since 1 January, which is 9,000 hectares (22,200 acres) more than over the same period last year, according to the environment ministry.

Some 550 firefighters were still trying to bring the blaze under control early on Thursday with the help of some 40 aircraft.

Environment Minister Cristina Narbona said 90% of the fires in Spain are caused by man.

In a region of Spain bordering Portugal, a fire in the south-western province of Huelva killed two people late on Tuesday and destroyed 3,000 hectares (7,413 acres) of woodland, a Spanish government spokeswoman said.

Poor management

Portugal lost 27,000 hectares (68,000 acres) of forest and woodlands in 10,000 fires in the year to 18 July, according to forest service figures.

The area burned is around the annual average for the previous five years, but the number of fires is higher.

Duarte Caldeira, head of the League of Portuguese Firefighters, said poor forest management meant they were often littered with deadwood and rubbish that fuelled fires.

He said fires were usually fought by volunteers who lacked suitable vehicles, helmets or oxygen masks.

"We will be close to the same situation we had last year," he told Reuters news agency.

Several fires have already been brought under control in the central Leiria region close to the main cities of Lisbon and Oporto.

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