At least 32 people died in wildfires raging through parched farmlands and forests in Portugal and another three in neighboring northwestern Spain on Sunday and Monday.
The blazes also killed at least four people and prompted the evacuation of thousands in the northwest region of Galicia, as the remnants of winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames along Iberia’s Atlantic coast.
Firefighters on Monday were still battling 50 fires in Portugal and a similar number in Spain. Officials in the two countries said arsonists had started some of the blazes.
Television footage showed abandoned villages with many houses in embers and charred vehicles left on the roads
Prime Minister Antonio Costa, however, refused to sack his interior minister and defended his government’s attempts to reform the troubled forestry management system.
“It’s a structural problem that we are facing… This is not a time for resignations, but for solutions. Everything has to be transformed into reforms, to provide responses that the country needs so that nothing stays the way it was after this year,” he told reporters after a television address to the nation.
Authorities called on residents to fight the flames themselves, as firefighters could not be expected to reach all affected areas. Countless streets were no longer passable, while water-spraying planes could not be deployed in most fires due to gigantic plumes of smoke affecting visibility.
The weekend’s fires had also injured 56 people in Portugal, civil protection service spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said. The toll could still increase as seven people were unaccounted for.
Fabio Ventura, who lives in Marinha Grande, in Leria district, told the BBC that some of his friends in villages in the nearby forest had lost their homes.
“Currently, we don’t have water in our homes because the pipes were damaged by the fire. We are avoiding taking showers to save water. The mobile network is going down several times and there is a huge cloud of smoke and ashes above my city.
“Schools were closed, public services are closed, and some roads are also closed. I have friends that lost their homes, but everyone is OK in my area.”