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Last Updated: Monday, 22 August 2005, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
EU helps fire-stricken Portugal
Fire in Nogueira, northern Portugal
Portugal said it could not cope alone in tackling the fires
Urgent appeals from Portugal for help to battle wildfires raging across the country have prompted fellow EU states to dispatch fire-fighting aircraft.

Spain and France have each sent two water-dropping aircraft and another is due to arrive from Italy on Monday.

Two helicopters are being sent from the Netherlands and three from Germany, along with experts to help tackle around 27 blazes in wood and farmland.

The fires have left at least 15 dead and 140,000 hectares destroyed.

Central and northern Portugal have been the worst affected; several villages have been evacuated. The most serious fire over the weekend was in the Pampilhosa da Serra region, in the Coimbra district 196 km (122 miles) north of Lisbon.

EU FIRE RESPONSE
Spain: 2 planes
France: 2 planes
Germany: 3 Puma helicopters
Italy: 1 plane
Netherlands: 2 helicopters

President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso visited areas affected by fires in the north of Portugal during a holiday visit and pledged support for his home country.

European Commission spokesman Rupert Kreitemeyer told the BBC's World Today programme that the commission had co-ordinated the response to Portugal's appeal for help.

He said France and Spain had already sent water-dropping planes, while help from Germany and Italy was expected to arrive later.

Unity

On the ground, the fires have left families devastated.

"I've lost everything," said one woman. "Everything around the house burned. It happened within a few seconds and there was nothing left. There were no firefighters and it looks like hell."

Map

The Portuguese Interior Minister, Antonio Costa, has said the fires were the most damaging in recent times and that the country could not cope without help from abroad.

The situation has been made worse by hot weather and wind.

Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio called for national unity and urged employers to release volunteer firemen from their work obligations "because at this time the country needs as many firefighters as possible".

"This is a very serious moment for Portugal," he said.


Your comments:

Having just returned from holiday in northern Portugal I witnessed the ferocity of the fires. The most alarming thing is how quickly they start and subsequently spread. Fighting such fires is made difficult due to the gradients upon which they burn with stiff winds acting as a catalyst, allowing the fire to spread.

Whilst travelling to the airport in Porto, we drove past three fires in a 100km drive, one of which was burning on both banks of the motorway plus the central reservation. The fire had been burning for over an hour and upon passing the blaze the fire crews had still not had the opportunity to get there.

In the air that evening, the scale of the areas affected was apparent with over 20 fires visible, some raging, others merely beginning. With rain expected in October the fires will only get worse before better.
Chris, London

As a Portuguese, from Lisbon, with most of my family in the south, I have seen fires like this all my life. I must say that this year has been worse than usual but we are mainly getting all this because of our incapacity for preventing these dramatic events.

Unless people open their eyes, the only way to prevent this happening next year is just by making sure there's nothing else to burn... sad but true.

Instead of just asking for help now, we must stop being too proud and ask professional fire departments to teach us how to prevent and to deal with situations like this.
Alexandre Goncalves, Lisbon, Portugal

Living in Lisbon, I haven't been directly affected by the fires but you don't have to drive far to see scenes of complete devastation. Even though there have been no major fires in the immediate vicinity, the moon has been tinted orange the last two nights running as a result of smoke haze from fires.

Rather than begging Canadairs from our neighbours each year we should have our own. It's the same story every year yet the government doesn't appear willing to spend a relatively small amount to buy a squadron of Canadair water bombers which would drastically improve firefighting capabilities, preferring instead to buy military submarines and F-16 fighters of no use to anyone.
Michael Brown, Lisbon, Portugal

These fires affect Portugal every year and unfortunately are not wild but manmade. My family has several forest lands in the Portuguese Douro valley that are burned every year because land value is increasing each year.

Forests are cleaned every year just before fire season and replanted every year just after it. Just after the fire season, we receive lots of proposals to sell the land and/or the burned wood. We always send the list of the interested buyers to police.
Miguel, London, UK

Every year, there is a lot of political wrangling here about fire fighting but not enough is done in terms of prevention. Understanding the causes of forest fires and acting upon them is imperative to halt this national tragedy.

Weather factors, like high temperatures and drought, may account for part of the explanation but there are a number of structural and circumstantial factors that need to be identified. Unfortunately, arson is a serious problem that is not effectively dealt with by either the police or the courts.
Anabela Carvalho, Braga, Portugal

My girlfriend and I were on vacation in July in Portugal when we spotted a few fires. They were around the town of Batalha and we could see a whole hill on fire about 15km from our hotel room. You could hear fire engines racing about from all directions to respond to the blazes. It's really sad to see so much land go up in flames.
Desmond, London, UK



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch firefighters try to extinguish the Portuguese blazes



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Portugal fires rage
22 Aug 05 |  In Pictures
Portuguese drought hits farmers
14 Jul 05 |  Europe

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