Portugal fights major wildfire as Europe’s heat wave lingers

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A firefighter works on an active fire on a hillside outside the village of Monchique, in southern Portugal’s Algarve region, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018. Emergency services in Portugal say they are still fighting a major wildfire on the south coast that threatened to engulf a hillside town overnight. (AP Photo/Javier Fergo)

Lisbon, Portugal (AP) — Emergency services in Portugal kept up their fight Monday against a four-day wildfire on the south coast that threatened to engulf a hillside town overnight, as sweltering weather continued in Europe.

The Civil Protection Agency said 44 people required medical assistance as the blaze passed by the outskirts of Monchique, 250 kilometers south of Lisbon, in the dark. A 72-year-old woman was seriously hurt.

Authorities said that more than 1,100 firefighters with 327 vehicles and eight aircraft were battling the blaze that erupted amid a heatwave caused by a mass of hot air from North Africa.

The rest of Europe has also felt the torrid recent weather.

In France, where four nuclear reactors have been temporarily closed due to the heat, three cities banned the most polluting cars from the roads because of heat-linked ozone pollution.

The heat wave in France is expected to last until Thursday, with temperatures peaking Tuesday.

In Norway, authorities warned motorists to watch out for reindeer and sheep taking shelter from the heat in tunnels.

Neighboring Sweden has been fighting an uncommon number of wildfires this summer, even above the Arctic Circle, and a European Union official pointed his finger at climate change.

“We are facing a new reality,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said. As a result, the EU must become “collectively (be) better prepared and stronger in responding to multiple disasters across the continent,” he said.

After four days of intense heat that broke some records in Portugal, with temperatures surpassing 45 C (113 F), Portuguese authorities forecast a cooler period beginning Monday. The Algarve wasn’t expected to exceed 30 C (86 F), while Lisbon was expecting 33 C (91 F).

Parts of the south and northeast of the country remained at “extreme risk” of wildfires, however, according to the national weather agency’s forecast.

The falling temperatures helped create “much more favorable” conditions for firefighters tackling the Monchique blaze, local fire chief Abel Gomes told a news conference.

Spain sent two Canadair water-dropping planes across the border Monday to help efforts around Monchique.

Overnight, dozens of homes and a hotel were evacuated around the town of about 2,000 people which is known for its spa.

The wind-driven fire has been racing across tinder-dry pine and eucalyptus forest in a largely inaccessible hill range behind the famous beaches of Portugal’s Algarve vacation region.

Plumes of black smoke have blown across beaches popular with European tourists.