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. Drought-hit Portugal battles large wildfire, homes threatened
LISBON (AFP) Mar 08, 2005
More than 100 firefighters were battling Tuesday a large wind-fueled wildfire in drought-hit Portugal which threatened several homes, emergency services workers said.

Firefighters said they planned to use water-dropping aircraft to fight the blaze, which broke out for yet to be determined reasons in the early hours of Tuesday near the central town of Albergaria-a-Velha, located some 250 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

"The situation was more worrying than it is at this moment but there are still several small villages in the path of the fire," regional fire commander Jose Ricardo told Lisbon-based Radio Renascenca.

Portugal, which is suffering though its worst drought in decades, has battled several rare winter wildfires in recent weeks.

Last week four firefighters died after the truck they were traveling in while battling a wildfire in central Portugal became surrounded by flames.

Firefighters have warned that the country could face severe wildfires once hot summer weather arrives unless more is done to promote fire prevention.

The country received an average of just 542 millimetres (21.7 inches) of rainfall last year, compared with an average of 930 millimetres (37.2 inches) between 1961 and 1990, national weather office figures show.

The unusually dry weather has continued into 2005. Precipitation levels were less than 20 percent of normal levels across mainland Portugal in January.

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