Portugal forest fire victims die in their cars as flames engulf road

Share

The number of people killed in the forest fires raging in central Portugal has risen to 62, with 54 others injured, State Secretary of Internal Affairs Ministry Jorge Gomes said Sunday.

The government has declared Sunday through Tuesday national days of mourning for the victims of a fire "which has caused an irreparable loss of human life".

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which has fanned the flames.

"It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that", the mayor of Pedrogao Grande Valdemar Alves told reporters.

"I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

More than 350 soldiers have joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the flames since Saturday.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

But various local residents said they had been left to their own devices and had seen no firefighters for hours while their homes burned.

We have had large-scale fires before over the past couple of decades - this year is not unusual in that respect - but it is certainly unusual to have so many fatalities in one place. A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road. No information has yet been given on how the others were killed. According to officials, most of the victims died in their cars along a single road as they attempted to escape.

Portugal's prime minister has thanked the hundreds of firefighters combating forest fires that have killed at least 57 people.

Spain dispatched two water-bombing planes on June 18 morning to aid the Portuguese fire service on the ground, Costa said.

The European Commission's aid chief, Christos Stylianides, said in a statement that "all will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need". The European Union has also promised to provide firefighting aircraft.

He added that firefighting crews are having difficulties battling the flames, which are "very violent" in at least two of the four fronts.

Nearly 24 hours after the deaths Saturday night, fires were still churning across the forested hillsides of central Portugal.

The forest fire deaths were the biggest in memory in Portugal, which saw 25 Portuguese soldiers die fighting wildfires in 1966.

Portugal's civil protection agency, which coordinates firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the increased risk for forest fires in Friday.

Many world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have expressed solidarity with Portugal.

Mariano Rajoy has tweeted that he is "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande".

President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet families of the victims, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people".

Share