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Rising toll of fires forces Portuguese leaders back from break

Portuguese firefighters are battling an exceptionally high number of forest fires raging across the country. The president and prime minister have cut short their holidays, after criticism, to address the situation.

A fireman tries to extinguish a wildfire in Gralheira Sierra

The vast majority of fires appear to have a human origin

More than 800 firefighters were in action fighting wildfires that have devastated swathes of northern Portugal, the country's Civil Protection Service said Friday

President Anibal Cavaco Silva and Prime Minister Jose Socrates both cut short holidays to be briefed by fire chiefs in Lisbon on Friday. The country's politicians have been criticized for failing to learn lessons from fires that have plagued the country in recent years.

Authorities expressed the most concern about the fires in Peneda-Geres and Serra da Estrela national parks in the north of the country, where blazes have lasted for almost three days.

According to the Interior Ministry, more than 90 percent of the fires had a human origin.

Firefighters killed

The month of July proved to be the worst in the country for five years, with 5,500 fires recorded across the country and two firefighters killed. In August, there have already been 4,680.

After a two-hour meeting, President Silva said he was "reassured by the fire-response capability". He asked members of the general public to avoid activities that could spark fires and denounced arsonists who are believed to have started some of the blazes.

Police on Friday said that they had arrested three shepherds suspected of having set fire to their pastures.Richard Connor (AFP/dpa/AP)
Editor: Andrew Bowen

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