Soaring temperatures spark early wildfires in Portugal

by Reuters
Tuesday, 26 March 2019 14:40 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Firefighters work in the aftermath of Sintra mountain wildfire in Cascais, Portugal October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

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LISBON, March 26 (Reuters) - Hundreds of firefighters were battling two major blazes in northern Portugal on Tuesday, forcing authorities to shut schools and close roads.

With no rain in sight and temperatures above usual for this time of year, reaching 28 degrees Celsius in some regions on Monday, Portugal has been on high alert for wildfires since the beginning of the week.

The weather conditions resemble those that caused a devastating wildfire in the central town of Pedrogao Grande in June 2017, killing 64 people and injuring more than 250. The fire was the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history.

Usually, crews are on alert for wildfires from May. The fire this week has flared earlier as temperatures have risen.

The temperature in the northern river city of Porto, near the coast, but not far from the fires, was around 20C on Tuesday, compared with a March average of 12C.

"This meteorological scenario means an increase in the fire risk index from Monday until Wednesday with favourable conditions for the rapid spread of fires throughout the mainland, with high to very high levels," the Civil Protection said on its website.

In the district of Esposende, in northern Portugal, a wildfire on Tuesday forced authorities to evacuate two schools due to high levels of smoke. Two main roads in the district were also shut.

"Schools are closed today and will resume normal activity tomorrow if conditions allow it," the schools said, quoted by Portuguese news agency Lusa.

A total of 75 firefighters are currently battling the wildfire in Esposense, which started on Tuesday morning.

Another fire was raging in the municipality of Oliveira de Azemeis, with 300 firefighters present.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Axel Bugge and Alison Williams)

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