Three dead in Madeira islands as wildfire spreads into capital

Three dead in Madeira islands as wildfire spreads into capital

Authorities in Portugal's Madeira Islands say three elderly people have died in their burned homes as a wildfire spread into the capital, Funchal.

The head of Madeira's regional government, Miguel Albuquerque, says the three died in two houses in the early hours of Wednesday.

He said more than 300 people have required medical treatment for smoke inhalation and minor burns.

The blaze, fuelled by hot weather and strong winds, forced the evacuation of around 1,000 local people and tourists in the islands off north-western Africa. A five-star hotel also burned down.

Tourism is the mainstay of Madeira's economy. The high winds in recent days have also forced the cancellation of around two dozen flights.

The evacuated people were taken to an army barracks, a soccer stadium and a civic centre on the island.

The blaze broke out on Monday, and firefighters said the island's steep hills and dense woodland made it hard to reach the flames.

Mr Albuquerque said officials suspect the fire was started deliberately, and police have made two arrests.

He said reinforcements, including firefighters and doctors, are due to arrive later on Wednesday from the Portuguese mainland.

The weather forecast is for cooler temperatures and a drop in the wind speed, which authorities hope will help extinguish the fire.

Fire services are at full stretch on the mainland, too, due to scores of wildfires that have raged since Saturday.

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