Portugal records its fewest summer wildfires in 10 years

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal has so far this year recorded its lowest number of wildfires since 2011, and the blazes have claimed no lives since more than 100 people died in 2017, authorities said Friday.

More than 80% of the 7,253 wildfires reported through Sept. 30 were put out before they grew to more than 1 hectare (2.5 acres) in area, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

More than 90% were extinguished within an hour and a half.

Portugal and other southern European countries are usually plagued by massive wildfires during the hot, dry summer months.

But Portugal this year mostly avoided summer weather extremes, including heat waves, which often spark and fuel wildfires.

After the 2017 deaths, the Portuguese government enacted a range of measures to prevent and contain wildfires.

These included public education campaigns on how fires start, establishing a rapid reaction force of firefighters and cutting several thousand kilometers (miles) of firebreaks, as well as making available a large number of firefighting assets. This year, Portugal had more than 12,000 firefighters, 2,600 vehicles and 60 aircraft on standby.

However, some underlying causes of wildfires remain to be addressed, such as the migration of people from the countryside to urban areas, leaving large areas untended, and extensive swathes of unbroken conifer forests and eucalyptus plantations, which are economically profitable but burn fiercely.

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