LISBON, Portugal (AP) – More than 1,200 firefighters supported by 19 aircraft battled a major wildfire in southern Portugal for a fifth straight day Tuesday, as firefighters questioned the wisdom of the strategy to counter the flames.
Authorities had hoped lower overnight temperatures would allow services to finally contain the blaze, which was 95 percent under control on Monday.
But officials blamed its continuing spread on strong, gusting winds fueling the flames, which are racing through dry and largely inaccessible woodland.
The fire came within 500 meters of the fire department in Monchique, a town of 2,000 people about 250 kilometers (155 miles) south of Lisbon, as officials evacuated scores of houses.
Emergency services say 29 people have been hurt in the wildfire.
An unknown number of homes – believed to number in the dozens, according to local reports – located in the forested hills have burned down.
The firefighting effort drew criticism, with some claiming poor organization is thwarting the operation. Monchique was identified as a high risk area months ago.
Firefighting is coordinated by the Civil Protection Agency, a government body overseen by the Ministry for the Interior, which oversees national defense.
The National Association of Professional Firemen and the Professional Firemen’s Trade Union issued a joint statement saying that the government’s recent reorganization of firefighting capabilities need to be reassessed and rethought. The organizations asked for a “very urgent” meeting with the Minister of the Interior.
The minister, Eduardo Cabrita, told reporters authorities were switching coordination of the Monchique fire from the local Civil Protection Agency to the department’s national operational command in Lisbon.
He declined to criticize the firefighting operation, saying the effort had been “notable.”
Portugal beefed up its wildfire response over the winter after 109 people died last year in forest blazes amid a severe drought.
Vitor Vaz Pinto, the Civil Protection Agency’s district commander, said the weather forecast around Monchique was “unfavorable,” with a gusting wind from the north, known as a “nortada.”
Temperatures were forecast to reach 35 C (95 F) – normal for August in southern Portugal.
The Iberian peninsula endured some record heat last weekend, with temperatures exceeding 45 C (113 F), which parched large areas.
Spanish emergency services were fighting Tuesday a wildfire near Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, with almost two dozen aircraft.
The high temperatures moved northward to France. The hottest weather was expected in central and northeastern France, with temperatures that could reach 40 C (104 F).