World News

Firefighter dies in forest blaze in central Portugal

LISBON (Reuters) - A firefighter died and three others were injured on Saturday in a forest fire in central Portugal, government officials said, the first reported fatality from a wildfire in the country this year.

The firefighter who was killed in Serra da Lousã was identified as Jose Augusto and was head of his fire squad, Portugal’s Ministry of Interior Affairs said in a statement.

The specific circumstances of death are not known, Luis Antunes, president of Lousã’s council, told Portuguese broadcaster RTP, but he said “intense and altering winds likely put them in a dangerous situation.”

The blaze began in the forest, located in the district of Coimbra, at around 6 p.m. local time and was brought under control about three hours later, Antunes said. A total of around 200 firefighters were at the scene.

Summer wildfires are common in Portugal. Many Portuguese fear this summer will be disastrous because of forecasts of record temperatures as well as fewer resources being available to fight blazes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Firefighters have been drafted in to assist in the response to the virus.

Portugal is still reeling from fires in June and October 2017 that killed 114 people. They were the deadliest in the country’s history.

Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita said in June that fire services had been reinforced significantly since the 2017 blazes, citing a 21% increase in staff in the past three years.

Reporting by Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Paul Simao