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Female firefighter dies as Portugal blazes worsen

A firefighter tries to putout a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013
A firefighter tries to putout a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013. A young female firefighter was killed on Thursday as she battled worsening forest fires in Portugal that have now claimed five lives, authorities said.

A young female firefighter was killed on Thursday as she battled worsening forest fires in Portugal that have now claimed five lives, authorities said.

More than 2,000 firefighters have been mobilised and several villages in the centre of the country have had to be evacuated after strong winds fanned the flames, Portugal's Civil Protection Authority said.

"If the police hadn't got me out of the house, I would have died in the flames," said Maria Fernandes, 66, a villager from Bracal in the Caramulo mountains north of Lisbon where the 21-year-old woman died.

A local stands with a branch in her hand during a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013
A local stands with a branch in her hand during a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013.

Two firefighters were also injured in the blaze, which claimed the lives of two other firefighters in the last week, bringing the total killed in August to five.

A pine forest that lies among the mountains was engulfed in flames as 425 firefighters, a helicopter and two French planes dropping water tackled the blaze.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and Miguel Macedo, the home minister, travelled to the area on Thursday as the situation deteriorated.

"We have to stop the fire reaching the villages at all cost," said Miguel Cruz, a spokesman for Portugal's Civil Protection Authority.

Locals shout as they try to extinguish a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013
Locals shout as they try to extinguish a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013.

Residents of Bracal spoke of their terror as the flames approached. "It was hell. I wouldn't wish for anyone to have to live through the same situation," said Maria de Lurdes Cardoso, 64, one of the last to be evacuated with her husband.

As many as 1,400 firefighters were dispatched Thursday to tackle the blaze in the mountains and another raging further north in the national park of Alvao, where 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of pine forest have already been destroyed, according to the local mayor.

Humberto Cerqueira, mayor of Mondim de Basto, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the park, said the scenes were "something out of Dante".

A local tries to extinguish a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013
A local tries to extinguish a wildfire in Caramulo, central Portugal on August 29, 2013.

"All the natural wealth has been destroyed," he said, decimating tourism in the area and local income from resin extraction, used in varnishes and adhesives.

The French government promised Wednesday to allow two planes dispatched earlier this week to aid the relief effort to remain in Portugal until September 3.

Almost 31,000 hectares have been destroyed by fire in Portugal this year, according to its Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.