Portugal goes on alert as winds cause major forest fire in Spain

MADRID (AP) — An out-of-control wildfire in Spain’s eastern province of Valencia has become one of the country’s biggest blazes this year, and 35 planes have been deployed to fight it as the fire was entering its fifth day, authorities said on Friday.

The wildfire has already burned more than 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) along a perimeter of 137 kilometers (85 miles). Efforts to bring it under control on Thursday failed and high winds made the blaze “very aggressive”, the regional government of Valencia said.

In neighboring Portugal, the government announced on Friday a national state of alert for three days from Sunday. Portugal is in the grip of a severe drought and has also experienced devastating forest fires this summer.

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The measure, which grants authorities special and temporary powers such as banning entry into the woods, is a response to forecasts of indoor temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) from Sunday in what could be the country‘s third heat wave this summer.

Portuguese Interior Minister José Luís Carneiro said the armed forces would provide additional forest patrols on those days. He also announced that the Civil Protection Agency would get additional funding to hire 500 more firefighters.

Meanwhile, in Valencia, Spain, four people remained in hospital after suffering severe burns on Wednesday when several passengers attempted to jump from a train that had stopped and attempted to return amid surrounding flames. The train had inadvertently steered into the rapidly spreading forest fire.

The head of the regional government, Ximo Puig, has requested a report from the fire services to clarify why the train was allowed to pass through a burning area.

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Spain has been hit harder than any other European country by forest fires this year, according to the European Commission’s Copernicus Earth observation programme. This year, forest fires in Spain have burned four times more land than in the past decade.

Until early August, 43 large forest fires – those affecting at least 500 hectares (1,235 acres) – have been recorded in the Mediterranean country, compared to the average for previous years of 11.

The European Forest Fire Information System estimates that Spain has burned 284,764 hectares (704,000 acres) this year, four times the average since records began in 2006.

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