LISBON (Reuters) - Deadly wildfires raging for two weeks in Portugal have destroyed a wooded area the size of 100,000 soccer fields, and the small Iberian nation alone accounts for half of all forests burned in the European Union this year.
Data from the European Information System of Forest Fires also showed that the burned area of 115,000 hectares (284,170 acres), mainly in Portugal’s north, was nearly four times larger than the country’s annual average in the previous seven years.
By Tuesday, firefighters put out the biggest blazes with the help of waterbomber aircraft from Russia, Spain, Morocco and Italy after the government acknowledged that Portugal lacked means to combat alone such a spate of fires.
The flames were set off during an intense heatwave, though police blamed arsonists in many cases. As temperatures dropped this week, the number of fires fell to 18 on Tuesday from a few hundred a day last week. Only one fire was deemed major, battled by about 100 firefighters and 2 aircraft.
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Four people died in the fires last week, most of them on the Portuguese Atlantic island of Madeira, where more than 1,000 people including tourists had to be evacuated at one point.
Across Portugal, the fires have destroyed hundreds of homes, shut major motorways for hours and caused damage worth over 200 million euros ($225.58 million).
Portugal suffered its deadliest blazes in 2003; they killed 19 people and torched around 10 percent of the country’s forests across some 400,000 hectares.
Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Mark Heinrich