Wildfires trap 2,000 villagers in Portugal

Firefighters tackle a wildfire at Vale Formoso village in Macao on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2017
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Wildfires trap 2,000 villagers in Portugal

MACAO, Portugal: Forest fires cut off a village of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggled Thursday to control two major blazes in the center of the country, local officials said.
And with another wave of hot weather forecast, the government declared a state of emergency in some central and northern regions.
Summer has seen a record number of fires and Portugal’s Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa has blamed arsonists and human negligence for most of them.
Vasco Estrela, the mayor of the embattled village of Macao, told the Lusa news agency: “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Macao because of the flames and the smoke.”
The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, grew stronger through Wednesday and by early Thursday had surrounded the village, he said, adding: “The fire is continuing unabated.”
Already at the end of July, a major fire had destroyed between 80 and 90 percent of the village, he said.
The emergency services have had to remove around 130 people from nearby villages, said Patricia Gaspar, spokeswoman for Portugal’s civil protection agency, the ANPC.
Authorities added that the fires have left 92 people injured, seven seriously.
The main road in the region was again cut off on Thursday. Fires also disrupted traffic on the highway that connects the capital Lisbon to Porto in the north.
But firefighters were most worried about the fires around Macao, which were continuing to advance on several fronts, she added.
The forecast of hotter weather in the coming days — increasing the risk that old fire sites will rekindle or new ones break out — convinced the government to declare the state of emergencies.
This year’s fires are the deadliest the country has endured.
Blazes in mid-June near Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal — about 40 kilometers north of Macao — killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others.
The flames spread so fast that many people died trapped in their cars, caught in the fires as they tried to drive to safety.
To mark the two months since the tragedy, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo and Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited the affected region Thursday.
Costa promised that his government would “authorize reconstruction projects for the damaged homes.”

Firefighters and locals were also struggling Thursday to control fires in nearby villages, including Sardoal, near Vale Formoso and Alcaravela, AFP journalists at the scene said.
“We came here to help the firefighters as best we can, by putting out smaller fires for example,” said volunteer Ines Azevedo, from neighboring Mouriscas.
“In a situation this dire, any help is useful.”
Already this month fires have injured 86 people, seven of them seriously, while authorities last week asked 40,000 people to leave the town of Abrantes — about 20 kilometers from Macao.
As well as recent loss of life, the fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares so far this year, civil protection officials said Wednesday.
The exceptional heat and dry conditions, coupled with strong winds, helped explain the scale of the destruction, said Rui Esteves, commander of the ANPC.

Police on Wednesday said they had arrested 91 suspected arsonists since the beginning of the year. That was a record, said Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa.
“Most of the fires have been started by man, through negligence or malice,” she said.
Firefighters have had to tackle a little over 10,000 separate fires so far this year — 2,500 more than at the same period in 2016.
And after the lethal fires in June, Portugal has now had to call in international help.
Over the weekend, Spain sent 120 firefighters, 27 engines and three firefighting planes to help bolster the exhausted Portuguese teams — part of a European Union program of mutual aid in emergencies.
Morocco also sent one of its firefighting planes.
The lethal fires in June led to a debate in Portugal about management of the forests and the need for an overhaul of the emergency response plan.
In July, the parliament approved several measures aimed at cutting back on eucalyptus plantations — the most common tree being planted in the regions hit hardest by the fires — which is extremely flammable.


Trump lawyer attacks Mueller report, sees nothing wrong in taking Russian info

Updated 10 min 47 sec ago
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Trump lawyer attacks Mueller report, sees nothing wrong in taking Russian info

  • The special counsel declined to bring charges, however, and Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump appointee, said that cleared the president
WASHINGTON: Donald Trump’s top lawyer on Sunday attacked “calumny, lies and distortions” in the Mueller investigation report, and said there is “nothing wrong” with taking hacked information from Russia.
Rudy Giuliani mounted a combative defense of the president in Sunday talk show appearances that took aim at Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators, the evidence they amassed and the witnesses they cited.
The former New York mayor heaped special scorn on Senator Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate who said Friday he was “sickened” by the report’s findings and “appalled” that Trump’s election campaign “welcomed help from Russia.”
“What a hypocrite. What a hypocrite. Any candidate in the whole world in America would take information,” Giuliani said of Romney on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He was referring to Democratic emails that were hacked by Russian operatives and disseminated by WikiLeaks in 2016 to hurt Trump presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
“Who says it’s even illegal?” Giuliani added. “Does the information turn out to be false, by the way? The information that was gleaned and disseminated, every newspaper printed it.”
Trump publicly encouraged Russia and WikiLeaks while top campaign officials, including his son and son-in-law, met in Trump Tower with a Russian promising dirt on Clinton.
“There is nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians. It depends on where it came from,” Giuliani said, adding that as a lawyer he would have advised against it.
“This didn’t become an international scandal because of immorality. It became an international scandal because the president was accused of violating the law falsely,” he said.
His comments echoed Trump, who mocked Romney on Twitter Sunday, after lashing out Friday at the “bullshit” Mueller report. The president was in Palm Beach, Florida where he attended Easter services.

The special counsel’s 22-month-long investigation concluded that Trump and his team did not collude with the Russian effort to sway the elections in his favor.
But it detailed 10 episodes of potential obstruction by Trump, including his firing of FBI director James Comey and demands that Mueller himself be removed.
The special counsel declined to bring charges, however, and Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump appointee, said that cleared the president.
Democrats, who have a majority in the House of Representatives, now are considering whether to move to impeach the president, an effort likely to fail because Republicans control the Senate.
“We will have to decide, do we nonetheless go through an impeachment — because to do otherwise would signal that somehow this president’s conduct is okay, that future presidents can engage in this kind of corruption without consequence — or do we decide that we are better off doing oversight ... rather than a formal impeachment?” Representative Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“That’s going to be a very consequential decision” and one that would be made “over the next couple weeks,” he said.
Representative Jerry Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, equivocated when asked on NBC about impeachment. “We may get to that, we may not,” he said, adding that lawmakers needed first to “go through all the evidence.”
So far, only two of the 18 declared Democratic presidential candidates — Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Obama cabinet member Julian Castro — have called for impeachment.

The White House’s strategy, meanwhile, was on bristling display in Giuliani’s talk show appearances: attack the investigators as biased and the witness testimony as self-serving and untruthful.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Giuliani called the report “a prosecutor’s version of what happened.”
“It’s two or three pages of calumny, lies and distortion,” he said. “Half of it is not true.”
Some of the most damaging episodes detailed in the report came from former White House counsel Don McGahn, who described to investigators Trump’s escalating demands that Mueller be removed.
McGahn refused to do so and threatened to resign but was talked out of it.
“I’m telling you he’s confused. He gave three different versions,” Giuliani said on CNN.
The White House has prepared a rebuttal of the Mueller report but has yet to release it.
“We’re ready to put it out when we have to,” the president’s lawyer said.