Three wildfires raged Saturday in Portugal's Castelo Branco, a district 225 kilometers northeast of Lisbon, and while one of the fires was contained, the two others have spread to the neighboring Santarem district, threatening several villages in the Vila de Rei and Macao municipalities.
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“The fire is out of control, without resources on the ground, and the population at risk,” Vasco Estrela, the mayor of Macao, told Portuguese radio station TSF. “We never thought we would live through this again.”
The flames have already hit some houses according to Portugal’s Civil Protection, who did not specify how many.
Images broadcasted by Portuguese channel TVI showed villagers in Macao trying to protect their houses and animals as smoke filled the air, forcing many to wear masks.
The National Authority for Civil Protection said that 16 airplanes and 354 firefighting vehicles were battling the blazes, along with 20 soldiers and four bulldozers. However, a Reuters photographer in Vila de Rei said few firefighters were visible and the wildfire was spreading rapidly.
The incident has caused 30 people to be injured so far and several villages and fluvial beaches have been evacuated by the authorities.
Internal Administration Minister Eduardo Cabrita said police had opened an investigation on the fires, adding that local authorities considered it strange that all the fires had started in a narrow time frame between 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. local time on Saturday in the same zone.
In a statement, police said that a 55-year-old man was detained on suspicion of starting a fire in the Portuguese district of Castelo Branco. Portugal’s judiciary police have collected some evidence that could be related to the fires’ origin, an official told Lusa news agency.
The fires come two years after another devastated the central town of Pedrogao Grande in June 2017, killing 64 people and injuring more than 250, becoming the worst natural disaster in the country's modern history.