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Portugal on top-level wildfire alert

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Portugal’s agriculture ministry raised the wildfire alert level for most of the parched country to its highest level with temperatures forecast to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in many regions.

The ministry’s Forest Fire Prevention Agency placed 12 of the nation’s 18 administrative districts on “maximum” alert for wildfires as of Thursday, increasing the number of regions on the top alert level by no less than eight.

Health authorities also issued an extreme heat warning for nine provinces, advising that some physical activities could pose a risk for young children and sick or elderly adults.

Wildfires have destroyed more than 68,000 hectares (168,000 acres) of forest and brush since the beginning of the year, while six firefighters have died battling the flames.

About a dozen fires raged on Wednesday through wooded areas around Aveiro, Portalegre and Viseu in the centre of the country and at Porto and Vila Real in the north.

Almost 1,000 firefighters, 268 vehicles and 23 aircraft were mobilised to fight the flames, emergency services said.

Most of the districts on maximum alert are in the centre and north of the country, which is facing its worst drought since the 1940s.

Four districts, including Lisbon, will face a “very high” risk of wildfires on Thursday while the remaining two faced a “moderate” risk, the agency said in a statement.

The wildfire alert system has five levels: reduced, moderate, high, very high and maximum.

“Negligence is the cause of the great majority of these fires,” national fire authority president Antonio Ferreira do Amaral said.

Last month a 74-year-old man died and several mountain villages in central Portugal had to be evacuated before the arrival of light rain and cooler temperatures helped firefighters bring blazes under control.

The area burnt so far this year was twice the average of the past five years, Amaral said.

The areas most seriously affected include Guarda and Coimbra, with more than 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) destroyed, and Porto, with 7,900 hectares (19,500 acres).

Fires in Portugal in 2004 wiped out 420,000 hectares (1.03 million acres) compared with 120,000 hectares (290,000 acres) in 2003.

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