Firefighters help to put out a forest fire near the village of Vila de Rei, Portugal. (Reuters)
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VILA DE REI/MACAO, Portugal – Blazes in central Portugal reached houses on Sunday, forcing locals to take matters into their own hands as they tried to protect their homes from huge wildfires with buckets of water and hosepipes as strong winds fanned the flames.
Two of the three wildfires which broke out on Saturday in Castelo Branco, a district 225 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, are still burning. Having spread to the nearby Santarem district, they are threatening several villages in the Vila de Rei and Macao municipalities.
Portugal’s Civil Protection said some houses were hit by the flames but did not give a specific number.
More than 1 150 firefighters are on the ground, according to the National Authority for Civil Protection. However, a Reuters photographer in Vila de Rei said few firefighters were visible and the wildfire there was spreading.
Authorities have evacuated villages and fluvial beaches as a precaution and 30 people have been injured. One civilian is in serious condition and remains hospitalised with first and second-degree burns.
The fires stirred memories of a devastating wildfire in the central town of Pedrogao Grande in June 2017, the worst disaster in modern Portuguese history, which killed 64 people and injured more than 250.
“The fire is out of control, without resources on the ground, and the population at risk,” Vasco Estrela, the mayor of Macao, told Portuguese radio station TSF. “We never thought we would live through this again.”
Images broadcast by Portuguese TV channel TVI showed villagers in Macao trying to protect their houses and animals as smoke filled the air, forcing many to wear masks.
In a statement, police said that a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a blaze in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. (Reuters)