by James Badcock, The Telegraph, October 16, 2017
Portuguese authorities have said that at least 27 people have died as a result of wildfires sparked around the country amid high temperatures and strong winds fanned by the ex-hurricane storm Ophelia on Sunday.
It is hoped that the final death toll will be lower than the 64 who perished in June’s blazes around Pedrógão Grande in the centre of the country, but fire crews were still fighting more than 100 of the 523 wildfires registered on Sunday in what authorities called Portugal’s “worst day of the year” for fires.
“I hope there are no more deaths,” said Prime Minister António Costa as he left an emergency meeting of Portugal’s Civil Protection authority in the early hours of Monday morning.
"Surely, these situations will repeat themselves," Mr Costa added when asked about the need to prevent further tragedies. "There are no magic solutions and we cannot deceive the Portuguese people about a problem that has been building up over decades.”
The deaths occurred in the central and northern regions of Coimbra, Castelo Branco, Aveiro and Viseu, according to Civil Protection.
As of 10am on Monday, firefighters continued to battle 108 blazes, with 33 said to be of “extreme importance” due to their proximity to settlements.
In Penacova, Coimbra district, two brothers reportedly died in a burning shed after they had decided to check on their beehives.
According to the newspaper Jornal de Notícias, a 19-year-old pregnant woman was killed on Portugal’s A25 highway after her car was involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle being driven by a man who was speeding away from a blaze. He is reported to be one of around 15 people in serious or critical condition in hospitals around Portugal.
In Galicia, the Spanish region to the north of Portugal, four people have died after more than 100 fires started on Sunday.
Despite the arrival of rains to many areas of Galicia in the wake of Ophelia, the region’s leader described the situation on Monday morning as “critical” as 32 fires continued to rage, 17 of which were considered a threat to towns and villages. Alberto Núñez Feijóo blamed arsonists for the huge number of fires set deliberately when conditions made it impossible for 5,000 emergency workers to combat effectively.
“Galicia is not burning; Galicia is being burnt. They are terrorists.”
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was due to arrive in Galicia on Monday afternoon to support the firefighting effort.
The region of Asturias is also fighting 30 wildfires, one of which has affected Muniellos natural reserve, one of the last strongholds of the brown bear.