Video: Portugal fires

updated 8/22/2005 3:54:22 PM ET 2005-08-22T19:54:22

Wildfires fanned by high winds burned out of control Monday, destroying more than 10 houses and forcing 50 people to leave their homes as Portugal suffered through its worst drought in years.

The government, no longer able to cope with the more than 25 fires burning through forest and farmland, called on the European Union for help over the weekend.

France sent two firefighting planes Sunday, and the Dutch air force was contributing with two Cougar helicopters, each capable of carrying 660 gallons of water.

Spain also delivered a plane, and Italy was expected to send one Tuesday. Three helicopters from Germany would also join in the operations.

The largest number of fires burned in the northern districts of Viseu and Viana do Castelo. Coimbra, the country’s third-largest city with nearly 110,000 people, was surrounded by two fire fronts, firefighters said.

Flames and smoke could be seen from different parts of the city located about 120 miles north of Lisbon, and the fire had already spread to a number of boroughs, firefighters said.

10 homes burned
More than 10 houses on the city’s outskirts were burned, and 50 people had fled their homes, firefighters said.

About 200 firefighters were battling another large fire in Abrantes in the district of Santarem, some 50 miles north of Lisbon.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters, supported by 795 fire trucks and 31 aircraft, were involved in the nationwide effort.

The army sent 600 men to monitor areas where fires had been extinguished, and civil protection workers stood by in case residents had to be evacuated.

Strong winds rekindled several fires during the weekend, and more winds and high temperatures were forecast.

Temperatures were expected to reach 96 degrees in some districts Monday. They were likely to begin dropping only on Wednesday, when there was also a chance of mild rain, forecasters said.

Portugal’s summer wildfires have burned through 346,000 acres, already more than the total area burned last year, when 320,000 acres were destroyed, officials said. In 2003 — the worst year in the last two decades — the blazes burned 1 million acres.

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