Three people have been killed in Portugal as the country is hit by a record number of forest fires, and three more have died in Spain where blazes sparked by arsonists have been fanned by strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia.
In total, some 440 fires were burning across Portugal yesterday, which is “the worst day since the beginning of the year,” according to a spokeswoman for the national civil protection agency, Patricia Gaspar.
In addition to the three dead, some 25 people had been injured, she said, with thousands of firefighters deployed and three motorways, including one linking Lisbon and Porto, closed.
This year has also seen Portugal’s worst ever fire in June near Pedrogao Grande in the centre of the country, which killed 64 people and injured 250.
The recent fires have been caused by “higher than average temperatures for the season and the cumulative effect of drought, which has been felt since the start of the year”, Gaspar said.
In Spain, authorities were blaming arson for some 17 fires which have caused three deaths.
“They are absolutely intentional fires, premeditated, caused by people who know what they are doing,” the head of the regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said.
Fifteen separate wildfires which posed a risk to built up areas were raging across the region of Galicia, he said. The flames were being fanned by wind gusts of up to 90 km per hour as Hurricane Ophelia moved north off the coast of Spain towards Ireland, he told private broadcaster La Sexta. “The situation is critical,” he said.
Feijoo said “thousands” of firefighters, soldiers and locals were battling the blazes. “We have not had a situation like this in the past decade. We have never deployed so many means at this time of the year,” he said.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who is from Galicia, expressed his condolences to the victims in a Twitter message.
Five wildfires were raging near Vigo, Galicia’s biggest city, forcing the evacuation of a shopping mall and a PSA Peugeot Citroen factory on the outskirts of the city.
The flames had reached O Castro, a large hilltop park in the heart of Vigo with sweeping views of the city’s estuary, Spanish public television station TVE reported.
Images broadcast on Spanish TV showed local residents, their mouths and noses covered with handkerchiefs, battling the flames with buckets and pans of water.
The city of around 300,000 residents has opened up two sports centres and booked rooms in three hotels for people who were forced to evacuate their homes.
At least 10 schools cancelled classes today in Vigo because of the flames, local officials said.
Spanish state-owned rail operator Renfe said it had cancelled a train linking Vigo to Barcelona because of the wildfires.
Several roads in Galicia were closed because of the flames, local officials said. The national weather office is forecasting rain and cooler temperatures in Galicia beginning early today which officials hope will help put out the flames.
Meteorologists say Ophelia is the most powerful hurricane recorded so far east in the Atlantic and the first since 1939 to travel so far north.