Portugal fires: EU funds water-bombing planes

Fire in Alvaiazere, Leiria. 4 Sept 2012
Image caption Emergency services are on alert for more fires triggered by Portugal's drought conditions

Firefighting aircraft have arrived in Portugal to help tackle scores of forest fires raging across the country.

The four aircraft - two from Spain and two from France - are being funded by the EU.

In another glimmer of hope, Portuguese officials said two major fires had been extinguished on Tuesday.

But nearly 8,000 firefighters remain deployed at more than 280 fires amid a forecast of continuing hot temperatures and strong winds.

The Canadair water-bombing planes arrived on Tuesday in the district of Leiria which had been the scene of one of the worst wildfires, Portuguese media reported.

Portugal asked the EU for four water-dumping aircraft after a helicopter being used in the operations crashed.

The pilot and co-pilot are said to have escaped with minor injuries.

"The European Commission is supporting the efforts to tackle the serious forest fires in Portugal," an EU statement said.

"The authorities in Lisbon requested assistance and Spain made an offer for two Canadair firefighting aeroplanes through the European Union's Civil Protection Mechanism.

"The commission has also agreed to the immediate deployment of two EU-funded firefighting aircraft from France."

Life lost

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said European solidarity was important in such situations.

The fires have claimed at least one life - a man who died trying to protect his farm in Ourem district, near Leiria.

The BBC's Alison Roberts in Lisbon says the heavily-forested north of the country is suffering the most but the tourist destinations of the Algarve and the island of Madeira were also hit earlier in the summer.

EC spokesman David Sharrock said further help could be provided if needed.

"The forecast is for another period of at least four days of extremely dry and hot weather," he said.

"With this reinforcement of equipment we hope that Portuguese authorities are on top of it, but obviously if further assistance is required then we are ready and standing by."

Briton Anthony Bulles who has lived in Alvaiazere, Leiria, with his wife for three years said it was the first time they had seen a fire so close to them.

"You cannot argue with fire, you cannot win," he said.

Neighbouring Spain has also been battling fires this year, with some 153,000 hectares (378,000 acres) of land scorched since January.

Over the weekend, thousands of people fled homes along the southern Costa del Sol, one of Spain's most popular holiday destinations and home to a large British expatriate community.

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