A “state of contingency” was implemented in Portugal on Sunday, in response to wildfires burning across the central and northern part of the country.
Some 2,800 firefighters are engaged in battling the fires which were spawned in part by a heat wave.
At least 29 people, both civilians and firefighters, have been treated for breathing problems and exhaustion in connection with the wildfires. The fires, burning since Thursday, have already claimed two homes.
During the heat wave, temperatures have exceeded 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last week, with temperatures expected to rise over the days ahead.
The “state of contingency” places rescue workers on alert but remains below the threshold of “state of calamity” or “state of emergency.”
Donzilia Marques, a pensioner from the town of Travessa de Almogadel told AFP, “The fire got 50 metres (165 feet) from the last house in the village.”
“Up there everything burned,” she added.
Climate scientists say extreme weather events like heat waves and droughts are strong indicators of the planetary effects of man-made climate change.
Extreme drought affected 28% of the country last month
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa cancelled a scheduled trip to Mozambique to monitor the wildfires. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa also cancelled a trip to New York where he was to speak at the UN economic council.
Costa asked everyone to exercise caution outdoors when it comes to anything that can cause a spark leading to a blaze.
“Preventing fires is the best help we can give our firefighters,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Civil Protection agency said some 700 soldiers had been dispatched to the area. By the time the order to dispatch the army came down Sunday, fires had already destroyed an estimated 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of vegetation.
The EU also triggered its common civil protection mechanism at Portugal’s request on Sunday. This gave Portugal officials access to two water bomber planes stationed in Spain.
Portugal’s neighbor on the Iberian Peninsula has also endured wildfires in recent years. In Spain, authorities evacuated some thirty homes due to the threat of wildfires.
In 2017, more than 100 died in Portugal due to out-of-control blazes.