Source Pravda.Ru

European aircraft help battle record Portugal forest fires

Water-dumping aircraft from around Europe battled on Tuesday to help drought-hit Portugal contain its worst forest fires on record that have killed at least 14 people.

France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands have sent helicopters or planes to help douse the flames after the Portuguese government called for assistance from the European Union at the weekend, the national fire service said.

About 2,300 firefighters fought a dozen blazes in central and northern Portugal in one of the worst forest fire years in decades, the national fire service said.

The worst blaze was near the ancient university city of Coimbra, about 180 km (110 miles) north of Lisbon, where hundreds of firefighters were in action. Flames broke out in the city on Monday, burning cars and much of a city forest.

At least 14 people have died during forest fires this year, including 10 firefighters, Lusa news agency reported. One civilian was killed on Monday when he was struck by a fire truck while he was helping at a blaze, reports Reuters.

The fires, mainly in northern and central Portugal, have burned 134,500 hectares (332,000 acres) so far this year. That is more than during all of 2004, but still below the 2003 toll of 420,000 hectares (just over one million acres) burned, the worst year on record.

Only southern Portugal - with its famed Algarve tourist beach area -- has largely escaped the fires this year.

The fires this year have destroyed about 100 homes and more than 500 farm buildings, Gaspar said.

On Sunday, Portuguese President Jose Sampaio urged businesses to release from their jobs volunteer firefighters, according to CNN.