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Wildfires threaten Portuguese city

By CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman

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Lisbon (Portugal)

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- Wildfires are threatening the outskirts of the northern Portuguese city of Coimbra, although no evacuations appear to have been ordered from the seat of the country's oldest university so far, an official has told CNN.

Smoke from the fires was visible in central Coimbra on Monday, and fire-fighting equipment from four European Union nations was either already on site or on the way, said Patricia Gaspar of Portugal's National Fire Coordination Center.

"It's quite near the center of the city. You can see it, the smoke," Gaspar said.

Coimbra, a city of about 150,000 people 201 km (126 miles) north of Lisbon, is an ancient city that long predates its time as the Roman town of Aeminium. The present University of Coimbra, founded in 1290, moved to the city permanently in the 16th century.

Portugal, like neighboring Spain, is suffering from its worst drought in decades, and numerous wildfires burned just across the northern border in Spain's northwestern region of Galicia on Monday.

A total of 134,000 hectares (331,000 acres) have burned in Portuguese wildfires so far this year, more than during all of last year.

The fires have killed 13 people -- 10 firefighters and three civilians. The most recent casualties were two firefighters killed last week, Gaspar said.

About 3,600 firefighters, many of them fatigued due to long duty, according to the Interior Ministry, were fighting the 27 fires in northern and central Portugal on Monday, Gaspar said.

There was no help from Mother Nature expected until Wednesday, when meteorologists predict lighter winds, a slight drop in temperatures and possibly some rain, Gaspar said.

The Portuguese government on Saturday called for international help to fight the fires. France has sent two aircraft, Italy another, and a Spanish aircraft crossed into the country on Sunday to assist before returning to Spain.

Three German helicopters were due by late Monday, Gaspar said, where they will join dozens of Portuguese firefighting aircraft.

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.

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

The northern and central areas have been hardest hit. At times, the smell of smoke from the fires was noticeable in Lisbon, including last Saturday, Gaspar said.

Dozens of homes reportedly have been destroyed in this year's blazes.

In Spain on Monday, seven wildfires burned in northwest Galicia and two others in western Zamora province, but on a lesser scope than the fires in Portugal. In July, 11 firefighters in Spain died in Guadalajara province just east of Madrid when they were trapped in a fast-moving fire.

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