LISBON, Portugal — (AP) — More than 3,000 firefighters and 30 aircraft battled forest fires in Portugal on Sunday that authorities said injured 29 people.
Authorities said 12 firefighters and 17 civilians needed medical assistance for minor injuries from the fires, as reported by Portuguese public television RTP and other local media. On Sunday afternoon, the Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said more than 3,000 firefighters were battling active blazes.
The European Union on Sunday activated its Firefighting Air Fleet Assistance Program which allows member countries to share resources to help Portugal. Spain, which has also suffered from forest fires recently, reacted quickly by mobilizing two firefighting planes to send to its Iberian neighbor, according to European Crisis Commissioner Janez Lenarcic.
Portugal has long suffered from large, sometimes tragic forest fires. In 2017, wildfires killed more than 100 people.
The European Union says climate change puts the continent facing one of its toughest years when it comes to natural disasters such as droughts and wildfires.
Across the Spanish border, a fire in the southwest led authorities to evacuate 30 people from homes as a precaution. Some 115 firefighters supported by helicopters and planes have been deployed to the blaze near the village of El Ronquillo.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa postponed his plan to visit Mozambique this week “in view of the weather forecasts which indicate a very serious increase in the risk of rural fires”.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has also canceled his trip to New York where he was due to speak at the UN Economic and Social Council.
In June, 96% of the southern European country was classified as being in “extreme” or “severe” drought.
The fires prompted the authorities to raise the state of alert already in place. The Portuguese government declared a heightened state of alert on Saturday which will continue until Friday.
“This means (…) that we can automatically and preventively activate all emergency and civil protection plans at all territorial levels,” Interior Minister José Luís Carneiro said.
The wildfires come as Portugal experiences a heatwave with temperatures expected up to 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit). The country has adopted restrictions prohibiting public access to forests deemed to be at particular risk, prohibiting the use of agricultural machinery and banning fireworks.
Costa, in a post on Twitter, reminded citizens not to light fires outside or use heavy agricultural machinery that could cause sparks.
“Preventing fires is the best help we can give to our firefighters,” the Prime Minister wrote.
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