Portugal's Algarve fires rage despite temperature drop
Four fires, two of them in the Algarve hinterland, continued to challenge firefighters for yet another day, according to the national rescue organisation.
They had hoped that Thursday's temperature drop of around five degrees Celsius (nine degrees Fahrenheit) and rain in some regions would afford some respite from the blazes.
Over 400 firemen, 240 soldiers, 159 vehicles and two helicopters were pressed into service in Algarve Friday, to fight the fires that have claimed 18 lives since the end of July.
They were especially busy in the mountainous region around the historic town of Monchique.
The firemen used two light aircraft and two helicopters to fight fires ravaging through pine forests in the central Castelo Branco region.
A blaze further to the east, around the town of Silves, was finally brought under control two days after it started. Dozens of people were evacuated from their homes Thursday, after some 2,000 hectares (4,800 acres) of land in the area had been devastated.
The fires in the Algarve region have raised fears for the country's lucrative tourist industry, currently at its seasonal peak.
Until August 8, the Algarve region had escaped the wave of fires that has swept other parts of Portugal since the end of July, causing damage estimated at nearly one billion euros (1.1 billion dollars).
Aside from the toll in lives, the fires have dealt a heavy blow to Portugal's forestry industry, which accounts for 11 percent of the nation's exports.
Forestry officials estimate 215,000 hectares (531,000 acres) of land, an area almost as big as Luxembourg, have been devastated by fire so far this year. That estimate does not include the Algarve wildfires.
Forest fires have also taken their toll in neighbouring Spain, where more than 36,000 hectares of forest and scrub lands have been destroyed this month, primarily in the country's west and southwest regions.
Copyright (c) 2003 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 08/15/2003 10:25:51
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