Fires rage as Portugal suffers its worst drought for 60 years

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The Independent Online

Forest fires raged in Portugal yesterday amid the country's worst drought in decades, while temperatures soared and a famous thermal spring dried up.

More than 1,500 firefighters fought at least 20 fires across the country, the civil protection office said. In at least one village, fires reached several homes.

In the town of Torres Vedras, 37 miles north of Lisbon, the thermal baths of Vimeiro were shut.

"There isn't enough water to feed the baths," said Antonio Macedo, who is in charge of the baths. "It is the first time in our 60 years that we have had to shut."

Other thermal baths across Portugal have also been affected by low water levels in recent weeks.

Fires worsened in the past two days as hot winds from Spain sent temperatures as high as 45C (113F) in the interior, the weather service said.

Rescue services asked rural homeowners to clear areas of 50 metres around their houses to keep fires from reaching them.

All of Portugal is in severe or extreme drought this year in the worst dry spell since at least 1945.

Some 53,000 people are getting water from tankers, while in many areas there are water conservation measures in force, the national water agency said.

According to the agriculture ministry, there have been 4,353 forest fires this year, almost two-thirds more than the average for the previous five years.

Spain is also suffering its worst drought since records began in the 1940s. In western France, water levels are at their lowest since a drought in 1976.