August 26, 2005

Portugal arrests scores over forest fires

By Axel Bugge

LISBON (Reuters) - Police in Portugal have arrested 127
people suspected of starting forest fires that have destroyed
swathes of land as authorities stepped up efforts to ensure
fires do not restart when temperatures rise again.

Police said on Friday they had arrested the 127th person
linked to the fires in central and northern Portugal that have
destroyed about 5 percent of the country's forests this year
and killed 14 people.

"In my opinion, 80 percent of fires are started
deliberately," said Paulo Tavares, head of the fire fighter
volunteers in the town of Coja. He would not elaborate on who
was behind them.

Some local newspapers in rural areas where fires have been
most intense have reported that hunters might be setting fires
because the government cut the hunting season.

Others say most fires are caused by accident, or
negligence, such as lit cigarette butts or barbecues.

"There is no scientific study, but from my knowledge I am
convinced the majority of fires start because of negligence,"
said Luciano Lourenco, head of the Forest Fire Prevention

Citing unnamed police sources, newspaper Diario de Noticias
reported on Friday that 20 percent of the 28,160 fires
registered this year were intentionally started.

Some politicians have warned that media attention could
spur others to light fires. Francisco Louca of the Left Bloc
party suggested that television stations limit their coverage.

Nearly 30 percent of Portuguese TV news coverage this month
was on fires, according to a Marktest survey published on
Friday in Diario de Noticias.