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Peacekeepers fight Portugal fires

Portugal: Forest fire
Huge areas have been burned in northern and central Portugal.

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Forest fires sweeping southern Europe are:
A natural phenomenon
A man-made disaster

LISBON, Portugal -- Exhausted firefighters and soldiers are to get help from returning peacekeeping troops to battle Portugal's devastating forest fires.

Eight hundred troops back from U.N. duties in Bosnia and East Timor will be put to work on the fires, the spokesman for Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso told Reuters.

Infernos which have killed 15 people continued across vast areas Friday, with Portugal declaring a national disaster. About 54,000 hectares (133,000 acres) have burned.

The worst affected regions include Braganca and Porto in the north and Guarda, Leiria and Santarem in central areas, where hundreds of people are being treated for smoke inhalation, burns and other injuries.

The European Commissioner for Social Affairs, Anna Daimantopoulou, was visiting some of the areas Friday to see how the EU can help.

Although the worst may be over, fresh fires continue to spark in the tinder-dry central mountains.

Portugal has asked for help from the EU and NATO. Spain and Germany have provided aircraft.

News reports Thursday said Portuguese police had arrested 26 people suspected of starting some of the forest fires.

In Spain, various smaller forest and brush fires were still burning around the nation Thursday, but the major blazes were considered to be under control.

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