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Thick smoke clouds Portugal beaches as fires rage

Monchique, Portugal: Smoke from raging wildfires billowed above popular tourist beaches in Portugal’s Algarve on Thursday after authorities ordered a fresh wave of urgent evacuations as the flames drew closer to a historic town in the region.

Ferocious fires have blazed for a week in southern Portugal stoked by sweltering temperatures and strong winds, injuring dozens and leaving a blackened trail of seared forest, charred homes and incinerated cars, despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and soldiers.

Fire crews and police conducted an urgent evacuation overnight of homes around the ancient town of Silves, as the fire continued to spread across one of Europe’s top tourism destinations.

Aircraft scooped water from the sea to drop onto the creeping blaze on Thursday, as firefighters continued their struggle to douse the flames, which have already consumed some 21,000 hectares (52,000 acres) of forest.

Smoke from the fires blackened the skies above the beaches of the Algarve.

“The sky is full of a sort of black mist, made of ash and soot,” Tony Sanders, a 73-year-old Briton who runs a small bed and breakfast in the resort town of Carvoeiro, said.

With winds forecast to reach up to 50 km/hr (30 mph) “there is a risk of reactivation in the afternoon along a perimeter that now exceeds 100 km”, said national civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar.

A Europe-wide heatwave sent the mercury above 45 degrees Celsius in some areas of Portugal at the weekend, intensifying wildfires that began on Friday. The fires have left 36 people injured, one seriously, with 19 of those hurt firefighters, according to Gaspar.

Hundreds of residents and tourists have been evacuated from around Monchique, a popular spa town of 6,000 people, some 160 kilometres from Lisbon. — AFP

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