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EU sends firefighting planes to Madeira

Wildfires on Madeira have prompted Portugal to ask for EU firefighting aircraft. The blaze has claimed three lives and gutted a hotel. On its mainland, Portugal is also fighting dozens of forest fires.

The European Commission said two planes from Spain and one from Italy had been sent to Madeira Wednesday under the EU's Civil Protection Mechanism.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa were expected to arrive late Wednesday to assess the drama on the archipelago located 500 kilometers (300 miles) off northwest Africa.

Lisbon was also flying in 110 emergency service workers on a military plane. The Azores, another Portuguese territory in the Atlantic was sending 30 men to assist.

The blazes on Madeira follow wildfires on Spain's Canary Island of La Palma.

Flames reach Funchal

Madeira's blaze - attributed by police to arsonists - began on Monday in hills around the capital, Funchal.

Three residents perished in their homes close to Funchal's historic center. A hotel overlooking the town was destroyed. Other homes and factories were also damaged.

Funchal mayor Paulo Cafofo said a thousand people were evacuated - 600 to a Portuguese military base and 300 to a stadium.

Diplomatic sources said those evacuated included holidaymakers from Germany and Britain as well as occupants of two hospitals and old people's homes.

The president of the Madeira region Miguel Albuquerque, described the outbreak as "complex but not catastrophic."

Eighty people had been hospitalized from burns and smoke inhalation, he said. Two were in serious condition.

Funchal trade and industry head Christina Pedra praised tourists, saying many had been "understanding and we don't have any cancelled reservations."

Dozens of fires on Portuguese mainland

Since last Friday, Portugal's mainland, especially its northern regions, has been coping with a spate of forest fires in dry, hot summer conditions, including 12 major blazes.

Those fires have also destroyed homes, forced the closure of major highways for hours and the evacuations of several villages.

ipj/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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