Portuguese fires impossible to stop

Wildfires in Portugal came out of control Monday, reaching incredible size. They threaten Coimbra, the seat of the country's oldest university, north of Lisbon, the city of more than 100,000 people.

Firefighters said flames surrounding Coimbra, north of Lisbon, had reached some parts of the city of more than 100,000 people and the mayor said the blaze to the south was moving quickly. Seven planes were dumping water on the fires, he said. Civil protection workers stood by in case residents had to be evacuated.

The Portuguese government, no longer able to cope with the more than 25 fires burning through forest and farmland, called on the European Union for help over the weekend.

"I welcome the speed with which the commission and member states have been able to respond to the urgent request for help," said commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who was in Portugal and following the situation closely.

The largest number of fires burned in the northern districts of Viseu and Viana do Castelo, AP reports.

Further south, Coimbra, the country's third-largest city, was surrounded by fires moving on two fronts, firefighters said.

Flames and smoke could be seen from parts of the city, about 200 kilometers (120 miles) north of Lisbon, and the fire had already entered a number of boroughs, they said. Flames had destroyed more than 10 houses on the outskirts of the city, and 50 people in that area fled their homes, firefighters said.

The firefighters are backed by 500 Portuguese soldiers, who are conducting surveillance of fires and also monitoring fire zones considered to be contained, to make sure the fires there do not revive, CNN says.

Only southern Portugal - with its famed Algarve tourist beach area - has largely escaped the fires this year.

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