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Portugal Battles Wildfires Amid Searing Heat

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More than 1,000 firefighters were on Sunday battling a wildfire in central Portugal that has destroyed 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of land and slightly injured 11 people.

Temperatures were above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in some regions of Portugal and authorities said wildfire risks would remain “very high or at maximum level across the entire country” over the coming days.

Around 7,000 hectares were destroyed in the district of Castelo Branco in the center of the country but the commander of the firefighting operation, Jose Gulherme, said the potential risk from the blaze could be as high as “more than 20,000 hectares.”

“It’s a very extensive area with many isolated homes and villages,” he told journalists, adding that the fire perimeter already extended 60 kilometers (40 miles).

Smoke and ash from the blaze, which started on Friday, had spread more than 130 kilometers east on Saturday to the town of Fatima, where Pope Francis was holding a service at a revered Catholic shrine with more than 200,000 pilgrims.

A further 400 firefighters were deployed to battle a separate wildfire in Odemira, near the southwest coast.

Civil security official Tiago Bugio said the flames in Odemira were being beaten back on Sunday. Two fronts were still active but a third, which had been heading toward the southern tourist mecca of the Algarve, was now under control.

Authorities warned the risk of wildfires remained extremely high across the country.

In neighboring Spain, at least five water bomber planes were deployed to a large-scale fire that threatened homes near the southern cities of Puerto Real and Cadiz, a popular tourist destination.

On the northeastern coast of Spain, a blaze that started on Friday in Catalonia and destroyed nearly 600 hectares of land, was mostly under control on Sunday despite strong winds.

Early assessments by government suggest over 1,000 hectares have been blackened by fires in Spain over the last three days.

Temperatures in the southernmost Andalusia region approached nearly 40C on Sunday and the country was bracing for a further heat wave on Monday.