Wildfires in Portugal killed at least 36 and injured dozens more, with an unconfirmed number still missing, officials said on Monday. In neighbouring Spain, at least three deaths were reported.

Firefighters from the Military Emergency Unit (UME) work to put out a forest fire near As Nieves, northern Spain, October 15, 2017.
Firefighters from the Military Emergency Unit (UME) work to put out a forest fire near As Nieves, northern Spain, October 15, 2017. (Reuters)

At least 39 people died in wildfires raging in central and northern Portugal on Sunday and Monday in the worst such calamity since a blaze killed 64 people in June, officials said.

In neighbouring Spain, at least three deaths were reported.

Hundreds of wildfires ravaged northern Spain and Portugal, scorching farmland and forcing the evacuation of towns and villages, authorities said on Monday.

Firefighters were battling 50 blazes in Portugal and a similar number in Spain. Portugal’s government asked for international help and declared a state of emergency in territory north of the Tagus river - about half of its landmass.

Flames ripped across Iberian countryside left tinder-dry by an unusually hot summer and early autumn, fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed coastal areas.

Television footage showed abandoned villages with many houses in embers and charred vehicles left on the roads.

Portuguese opposition parties and the media harshly criticised the government for failing to prevent a new wave of deadly fires after the country’s worst ever forest fire in June that killed 64 people.

TRT World's Sara Firth reports.

"Critical" situation

The wildfire situation is still "critical" due to temperatures above 30 C (86 F), but cooler, wetter weather is approaching, Gaspar said.

The fatalities in Portugal occurred in densely forested parts of central and northern part of the country after blazes broke out in "exceptional" weather circumstances, she said.

Emergency services recorded more than 500 wildfires on Sunday, the highest number of the year in a single day and the worst in more than 10 years.

Portugal, where more than 6,000 firefighters battled to put out fires on Sunday, has requested assistance from its European partners and Morocco.

The country has been especially hard hit by wildfires this year.

A prolonged drought and mid-October temperatures of more than 30 C (86 F) have fuelled the fires.

The wreckage of a burned van where two people died trapped by flames is pictured in Chandebrito, near the town of Nigran, northwestern Spain, on October 16, 2017.
The wreckage of a burned van where two people died trapped by flames is pictured in Chandebrito, near the town of Nigran, northwestern Spain, on October 16, 2017. (AFP)

Arson may be involved

The fires, some of which an official said had been started deliberately, were fanned by strong winds as remnants of ex-Hurricane Ophelia brushed the Iberian coast.

They had spread quickly on the weekend across a landscape left tinder-dry by a hot summer, and some blazes in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia remained out of control on Monday, authorities there said.

The bodies of two of the four victims in Spain, both women, were found by firemen inside a burnt-out car on a road in Galicia. 

The third, a man in his seventies, died as he tried to save his farm animals, media reported.

Most of the fires in Galicia were started deliberately, the head of the Galicia regional government, Alberto Nunez Feijoo, said in a radio interview.

Spain's Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said some of those responsible had already been identified. 

They could face up to 20 years in jail if convicted, police said.

Over 100 fires were still active in Galicia alone, the regional government said on Monday, 67 of those raging out of control. In 16 cases, residents had been evacuated.

At least 17 fires were close to inhabited areas, many of them in the Vigo province. 

Schools were closed on Monday and at least 20 planes were joining 350 firefighting units in tackling the blazes. 

Light rainfall early on Monday was expected to help extinguish the flames.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy traveled to Galicia, where he is from, to visit an emergency response centre.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies