Following a punishing heatwave, around 1,500 firefighters were battling multiple forest fires and several bush fires in central and northern Portugal on Sunday, prompting the government to declare a “state of contingency.”
The fires have been burning in several areas since Thursday, destroying at least two homes, with nearly 250 fires starting on Friday and Saturday.
The fires come on the heels of an intense heatwave in Portugal, with temperatures reaching over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) this week and are expected to rise in the coming days.
Climate change, according to scientists, is linked to more extreme and frequent weather events, such as heatwaves and forest fires.
As the latest fires raged Sunday, the Portuguese government declared a national “state of contingency,” putting rescue personnel on high alert. It is higher than the state of alert but lower than the states of calamity and emergency.
According to the Civil Protection agency, approximately 1,500 firefighters are battling fires in the municipalities of Ourem, Pombal, and Carrazeda de Ansiaes.
Donzilia Marques, a pensioner in the central Portuguese hamlet of Travessa de Almogadel, was relieved to return home on Sunday after being evacuated the night before.
“The fire arrived 50 meters (165 feet) from the last house in the village… everything burned up there,” the 76-year-old said, pointing to the hills between his home and Freixianda.
According to the Civil Protection agency, more than 700 soldiers were dispatched to the area on Sunday after the fires destroyed approximately 1,500 hectares (3,700 acres) of vegetation.
A dozen firefighters and about 20 civilians were injured in the fires, but the majority were treated on the spot for breathing problems or exhaustion.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa canceled a planned trip to Mozambique in order to monitor the fires in his own country.
The government has requested that the European Union activate its common civil protection mechanism, granting Portugal access to two water bomber planes stationed in Spain.
“We are facing an almost unprecedented meteorological situation,” said Andre Fernandes, national commander of civil protection, on Saturday.
Portugal has already experienced extreme weather this year, with an extreme drought affecting approximately 28% of the country’s territory in June, compared to 1% in May.