Wildfires in winemaking areas of Portugal and northern Spain have claimed at least 45 lives and burnt through thousands of hectares of agricultural land, including vineyards and winery owners' homes in both Galicia and the Dão.

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  • Anger as death toll rises above 40 from fires

  • Winery owners report vineyard damage and some buildings destroyed

  • Employees at Casa de Mouraz hospitalised after fighting blaze at estate

Six thousand firefighters have spent the past week fighting more than 65 fires across Galicia in Spain and central Portugal. The unfolding tragedy had claimed 45 lives by Wednesday this week (18 October) – 41 in central Portugal and four in Galicia, according to the BBC.

Portugal’s interior minister resigned this week and the country has declared three days of mourning.

Winds from Hurricane Ophelia fanned the flames, worsening the situation; just as high winds also proved a major problem for thousands of fire crews battling blazes in California wine country last week.

Several winemakers in Galicia and Dão found themselves on the frontline, like their counterparts in Napa and Sonoma.

‘From Sunday night to Monday there were terrible fires all over Portugal and particularly in the Dão region,’ local winemaker Luís Lourenço told Decanter.com.

‘It was frightening because the wind was blowing in all directions, and it was almost impossible to control the fire. At Quinta dos Roques we are surrounded by pine forests, [and] some vineyards were ignited by the heat alone. I have about 12 hectares [out of 35] affected by the fires.

‘Lots of producers in the Dão were affected.’

Sara Dionísio, owner of organic producer Casa de Mouraz in Tondela, Dão, said they lost vineyards, their home and a warehouse holding 100 pallets of wine.

‘It was all so fast,’ she said, who had been temporarily living elsewhere with her husband-winemaker Antonio, while their house was being refurbished.

‘During Sunday night we started to have winds faster than 100km/hour. We received a call that our vineyards were burning and Antonio went there with one of our employees to try to save part of the warehouse.

‘They stopped the fire in one part, but the other part completely fell down, landing on their heads. They went to hospital. It is a miracle that they are ok.’

It is understood that some family members of winery employees were among those who died in the area, although no further details were available at the present time.

The team at Casa de Mouraz managed to save the winery filled with the freshly picked 2017 harvest. They now hope that 2017 vintage sales will help fund rebuilding and replanting.

‘It is a complete tragedy and we have to talk about it, because we need to change our forest management in Portugal, especially considering climate change, so this doesn’t happen again,’ said Dionísio.

In June, 64 people were killed in forest fires in Portugal.

Spain

In northern Spain, ‘the fires were very strong in Galicia and Asturias’, said Luis Bultron, president of Galicia’s winemakers’ association.

Fire damaged vineyards in Rías Baixas.

Fire damaged vineyards in Rías Baixas. Credit: Jorge Hevella.

As Neves in Rías Baixas suffered the brunt of the fires. ‘Over 90% of the agricultural land in As Neves has been burnt, and somewhere between 15-20% of that is vineyards,’ consultant winemaker in the region, Jorge Hevella, told Decanter.com.

‘People have lost entire vineyards here, and their homes. It’s a barbarity; these fires were caused by arson. Some of the vines will never recover, and the land is still smouldering.’

It has not been proved that arson was the cause of the fires.

Bultron added, ‘Nobody can remember an October as hot as this year and the hot air, wind and dry land combined with the fires made it an apocalyptic scene. The nuclei of the fires was in urban areas in Galicia, and in the forests in Asturias. The fire was very close but fortunately relatively few vineyard regions were affected. The worst was Rías Baixas.’

Light rainfall since Monday evening has enabled fire crews to control the fires in northern Spain and Portugal, as producers and local wine associations begin to assess the damage.

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