Forest Fires Spread in Portugal; Major Blaze in Spain Brought Under Control

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Forest fires raged across Portugal Friday, scorching the popular tourist region in the south.

The southern Algrave region, popular with vacationers, is one of the worst hit areas, and reports said one-third of the area's woodland had burned.

Firefighters said that in one area, the blaze was spreading toward the beach resort town of Tavira on the southern coast. Several hundred people were evacuated from the Algarve mountain village of Sao Bras de Alportel, 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the coastal city of Faro.

About 650 firefighters with helicopters and water-dumping planes battled to control the flames.

Portuguese authorities have so far refused to say how much land has been burned in the latest batch of fires this week, but firefighters and news reports place the figure in the tens of thousands of hectares (acres).

On Thursday, the Algarve fire was said to have a front stretching 80 kilometers (50 miles) and getting longer.

Fifteen fires in all were reported throughout the country Friday.

Last year, fires in Portugal destroyed 424,000 hectares (1 million acres), killing 18 people and damaging 2,500 buildings.

The government said that more than 33,000 hectares (81,500 acres) of forest and agricultural land were lost to fires between January and the latest round of blazes, which started July 25.

In neighboring Spain, firefighters said they had brought under control a massive blaze that burned 26,500 hectares (65,000 acres) this week in the southern province of Huelva, which borders Portugal's Algarve.

Two people died in that fire on Tuesday.

Police said they suspected the fire may have been caused intentionally and there could be arrests soon.