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Portugal gets foreign help battling wildfires

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LISBON, Portugal — Water-dumping aircraft from Spain and France on Tuesday joined Portugal's battle to halt the spread of wildfires through thick woodland in the country's north left tinder-dry by months of drought.

Spain and France sent two aircraft each, Portugal's Civil Protection Service said, a day after authorities appealed for help for fire crews struggling to contain blazes amid high temperatures and strong winds.

At mid-afternoon Tuesday, the Civil Protection Service said just over 1,000 firefighters were tackling 10 blazes in steep hills and dense forests in northern Portugal.

More than 350 vehicles and 19 aircraft, including those from Spain and France, were on duty, it said on its website.

Interior Minister Miguel Macedo met with national fire officials at their command center just outside Lisbon and said the temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), high winds and difficult terrain "have produced what firefighters call a perfect storm."

He said the difficult conditions were forecast to continue another 48 hours.

Portugal is in the grip of one of its worst droughts in recent memory. At the end of July, 58 percent of Portugal was enduring extreme drought conditions and 26 percent was in severe drought, the two highest classifications, according to the Meteorological Institute.

The lack of rain has left forests vulnerable. Between January and July, fires scorched some 67,000 hectares (165,550 acres) of forest and scrubland — triple the amount recorded in the same period last year, the National Forest Authority said in its latest report.

The Civil Protection Service said firefighters extinguished two major forest blazes that had burned for more than 30 hours from Sunday and claimed the life of one person.

In remote villages, locals used buckets and garden hoses to douse flames encroaching on their homes as black smoke billowed across blue skies.

Despite the difficulties, Tuesday was quieter than the previous day when more than 7,300 firefighters and almost 2,000 vehicles attended 289 major forest blazes.

The largest outbreak was in Ourem, near Leiria, where a blaze that started midday Sunday killed a 54-year-old farmer trying to protect his property. That fire was brought under control early Tuesday.