Wildfires in Portugal and Spain killed at least 35 people as strong winds from tropical storm Ophelia fanned hundreds of flames raging through parched farmlands and forests on Sunday and Monday.
A state of emergency has been declared in Portugal’s affected areas and about 4,000 firefighters were working to extinguish at least 145 blazes Monday Morning.
About 500 hundred blazes were reported in Portugal’s central and northern regions, claiming at least 31 people. There were more than 50 people injured in Portugal; of them, 15 were reported to be in a serious condition.
Portugal, the country which is still recovering from its deadliest wildfires on record in June that killed 64 people and many injured, is asking for international help, according to the authorities.
There were at least 100 blazes reported in Spain which claimed at least 3 lives. Fires reached the outskirts of the port city of Vigo. Most of the fires were burning in the northern regions of Galicia and Asturias.
The Spanish authorities said that more than 90 fires were burning in the northern regions of Galicia and Asturias.
Alberto Núñez Feijóo, the leader of Galicia, blamed ‘arsonists’ for many fires and expressed the desire to bring the ‘criminals’ who were behind it.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy travelled to Galicia on Monday where he met firefighters and expressed solidarity with the victims.
But the questions were raised about the speed of the response and the readiness to tackle such a fire in Spain.
On the other hand, Portugal government has been hugely criticized for a slow, inefficient response and a lack of fire-prevention policies. Most of the Portuguese deaths were reported in the Coimbra, Guarda, Castelo Branca and Viseu areas.
Portugal’s Interior Minister, Constanca Urbano de Sousa said: “we are facing new (weather) conditions… In an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world”.
But the flames are sure to resuscitate the civil argument about whether the authorities have dispensed adequate assets to forestry management, and also Portugal’s dependence on volunteer firefighters and its inability to punish landowners who leave forest abandoned.
The situation in Portugal is confounded by the way that the state possesses around 3 percent of the nation’s woods and does not have an appropriate registry of forest landowners. Forest administration has been additionally debilitated by spending cuts amid the current financial crisis.
Portugal’s forests have been consuming over and over amid a bizarrely dry and warm summer. Conditions were exacerbated by Hurricane Ophelia, as it approaches Europe’s western coast, conveying strong winds to fan and spread the blazes.
The impacts of the flames could be viewed as far as Britain. The dust from the blazes, combined with the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia, gave the sky a reddish hue that is normally seen only at sunrise or sunset, according to the Met Office.
Rain is forecast for the affected regions late on Monday.