Smell of Portugal’s forest fires reaches Madrid 300 kilometres away

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The smell of burning from Portugal’s massive forest fires reached Madrid on Tuesday, Spanish emergency services reported, as both countries battle the blaze.

“We have received many calls on Madrid-112 from citizens worried about the smell of burning and smoke: it is a fire in Portugal,” the Madrid region’s emergency services wrote on Twitter, after receiving 380 calls.

A satellite image released by the rescue services shows a column of smoke spreading over 300 kilometres, the distance between Portugal and the Spanish capital.

Both countries, hit by drought and heatwave, are battling large forest fires.

The Serra da Estrela blaze, already the biggest of this summer in Portugal, has burned some 15,000 hectares, according to the latest provisional figures from the Portuguese authorities.

The fire, which broke out on August 6 in the vicinity of Covilha in central Portugal, destroyed unique forest areas in the UNESCO-recognised park in the heart of the Serra da Estrela mountain range, which rises to around 2,000 metres.

While the civil protection service has been criticised for its operational management, Portuguese Interior Minister José Luis Carneiro pledged on Monday to launch an evaluation of the “structural causes” and the “method of fighting” the fires “once the Serra da Estrela fire is extinguished”.

In the southeastern Spanish province of Alicante, 10,000 hectares have already burned and the fire, which spread after lightning struck the Vall d’Ebo on Saturday evening, has still not been brought under control. More than 15,000 people have had to be evacuated, according to the authorities.

In the region of Aragon in Spain’s north-east, where more than 6,000 hectares have burned, firefighters seem to have succeeded in fixing the fire.

In Spain, forest fires in 2022 were three times more devastating than in the whole of 2021, when 84,827 hectares went up in smoke.

Portugal, which is experiencing an exceptional drought this year, had its hottest July in almost a century.

Since the beginning of the year, some 81,000 hectares have gone up in smoke, the largest area since the deadly fires of 2017 that killed around 100 people, according to the latest figures from the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests.