Seas of flames engulf countryside in North and Centre

Sunday August 7 saw more than 465 fires raging in various parts of the country, the worst of which destroyed houses, terrified communities and led to the closure of major roads and highways.

Horrendously high temperatures (well over 40ºC in the interior), winds and the sheer enormity of the task ahead of them did nothing to help exhausted firefighters.

Newspaper reports suggest they “simply did not have the means to answer” the massive job at hand.

“In various boroughs of the districts of Porto, Aveiro, Braga and Viana de Castelo, diverse corporations could not cope with the high number of fires that sprung up with temperatures close to 40ºC,” wrote national tabloid Correio da Manhã.

Giving the desperate panorama a dramatic centre-page spread this morning, the paper said it got to a point in some areas where firefighters could only advise householders to grab what they could and get out.

In all, over 800 firemen worked flat-out yesterday, assisted by over 2,000 vehicles, and 44 planes and helicopters.

In many cases, air support was crucial to fighting flames that no-one on land could get close to.

In the chaos, various key locations merited a heightened response. The IKEA factory in Penamaior, for example, came under threat, just as the Professional School of Sobrado in Valonga.

Luckily both were saved, but elsewhere householders were not so lucky.

In Gondomar, the top floor of a house was completely destroyed. In Santa Maria da Feira, people lost annexes. Whole villages were evacuated (Castanheira and Albergaria da Serra), a campsite evacuated (Merujal) and hundreds of vehicles held up in 5km queues as motorways and major roads were shut.

In Viseu, Barcelos, the Minho region, situations of panic and sheer impotence ran in tandem with advancing flames. It was a truly awful day that was still playing out today (Monday) with a number of major blazes still raging.

Arouca, Estarreja, Oliveira do Bairro and Mealhada (all of them in the district of Aveiro) were still listed as active fronts this morning, while in Viana do Castelo firemen and locals were facing down fires in Arcos de Valdevez and Paredes de Coura.

This far no serious injuries have been recorded, though two firefighters have been treated in hospital for smoke inhalation.

For an up-to-date look at the national situation, see:

Though tinder-box dry, the Algarve has avoided any major fire situations up until now and policies this year have been set in motion to try and ensure this continues (click here).