As wildfires continue to devastate Northern California, across the Atlantic, Europeans are facing their own deadly infernos.
More than 40 people have been killed and once-thick forests have been devastated as more than 500 wildfires — fanned by winds from Hurricane Ophelia — have blazed across Portugal and Spain. "This country has been plagued with the largest wave of fires since 2006," Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa told the press on Monday. "This is a moment of mourning, of showing our condolences to the families of the victims."
On Tuesday morning, Portugal began a three-day mourning period to honor the dead and wounded. Authorities there fear the official death toll will soon rise even though rains began on Tuesday and the fires in Portugal were largely contained. Spain also announced that population centers were safe, even as firefighters worked to contain fires in unpopulated areas.
"We went through absolute hell. It was horrible. There was fire everywhere," one resident of the region near the Portuguese city of Coimbra told Portuguese radio over the weekend.
The city of Vigo, in Galicia, Spain, has been surrounded by fires as well. On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy traveled to the region to see the devastation and to offer his support. Rajoy told the press he believed the fires had been started by arsonists. Rajoy’s comments were echoed by other authorities.
“We are ready to extinguish fires, but we are not ready for arsonists,” Isabel García Tejerina, Spain’s environment and agriculture minister, said on Spanish television. The Galician regional president, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, was similarly angry. “The only thing we desire is that these criminals pay for what they have done,” he said the same day.
Portuguese authorities have also said the fires were intentionally set.
This weekend’s fires come at the tail end of what has been a particularly deadly fire season for Portugal. In June, more than 60 people were killed in a conflagration. And in August, fires swept the North of the country again in the midst of a particularly dry and hot summer.
As Raphael Minder explained in the New York Times back in August, fires in Northern Portugal burn and spread quickly in part because of the region’s numerous eucalyptus trees, which burn easily due to their high oil content. As global temperatures rise and drier weather and fewer cooling storms become the norm, the region has become particularly susceptible to devastating fires.
The photos below offer a glimpse of the scale of devastation.