Hundreds of firefighters are scrambling to put out a blaze raging in southern Portugal that has scorched thousands of hectares of land and led to the precautionary evacuation of about 1,400 people.
The wildfire, which is being tackled by more than 800 firefighters, started on Saturday in the municipality of Odemira in the Alentejo region but has since spread south towards the Algarve, one of Portugal’s top tourist destinations.
High temperatures and strong winds are complicating efforts to combat the flames, which have destroyed about 6,700 hectares (16,500 acres) of land. José Ribeiro, commander of the emergency and civil protection authority, said weather conditions were expected to remain a challenge.
Shortly before sunset on Monday, the sky in Odemira turned dark as a huge smoke cloud filled the air.
Odemira’s mayor, Hélder Guerreiro, called the situation “critical, difficult and complex” while Ribeiro said there was a “lot of work” ahead to bring the wildfire under control.
“It is a worrying situation,” Ribeiro told reporters during a morning briefing, adding there were two active fronts, with one heading to Monchique, a lush green mountainous area in the Algarve’s countryside. Monchique, which last burned in 2018, is popular among locals and tourists due to its thermal springs and hotels.
Nineteen tiny villages, four tourist accommodations and a camping site have been evacuated as a precaution. Several roads had been closed, authorities said.
Southern European countries such as Portugal have been grappling with record-breaking temperatures during the peak summer tourist season, prompting authorities to warn of health risks.
Scientists say heatwaves are becoming more frequent, intense and spread out across seasons due to climate change.
The Portuguese weather agency IPMA on Monday put six districts in the country, including the capital, Lisbon, on red alert for extreme heat until midnight.
Authorities have declared more than 120 municipalities at maximum risk of wildfires.
The civil protection secretary of state, Patricia Gaspar, said: “The weather conditions we are going to experience in the coming days mean any small occurrence [fire] could become a big one.”
Three districts in the north were placed under red alert on Tuesday as temperatures were expected to reach 41C (105.8F) in the northern city of Castelo Branco.