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Wildfires spread in Portugal's national parks amid hot, dry weather

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Authorities in Portugal struggled Thursday to contain wildfires sweeping across northern parts of the country.

The Civil Protection Service said it was fighting 29 wildfires in forests parched by weeks of hot, dry weather, including the hottest July in almost 80 years.

More than 600 firefighters, more than 200 vehicles and nine aircraft were deployed, the Civil Protection Service said on its website. Army bulldozers were cutting firebreaks in the northern Peneda-Geres protected nature reserve where they helped extinguish one of two wildfires.

Four blazes scorched areas of the Serra da Estrela hills — a national park — in central Portugal.

Flames came within meters (yards) of homes in the hill village of Sandomil, 200 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of the capital, Lisbon. Officials complained that local people had not cleaned brush from around their houses as instructed by authorities during the winter.

Interior Minister Rui Pereira said the emergency services were doing "all they can" in difficult conditions which included gusting winds and temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit).

He said the government has contracted two more heavy firefighting helicopters from abroad — "the only ones available on the market" as summer blazes are also affecting other southern European countries and Russia.

"As far as the equipment available is concerned, we've been doing everything we can," Pereira told a news conference. "The weather is obviously an uncontrollable factor and is particularly adverse at the moment."

Wildfires are common in Portugual during the summer. Almost 10,000 fighters and 56 aircraft are on standby this year.

Police announced they were adding a further 60 detectives to investigate the cause of the wildfires, many of which the Civil Protection Service suspects are started deliberately. About 50 detectives were already working on the investigations. So far they have arrested 12 suspects.