Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
Culture | By Julio Duncan

Portugal's Forest Fires Leave Dozens Dead As Wildfires Sweep Through Country

Portugal's Forest Fires Leave Dozens Dead As Wildfires Sweep Through Country

Raging forest fires in Portugal have killed at least 62 people, many of them burnt to death in their cars, the government said Sunday, in the country's worst such disaster in recent history.

Portuguese radio station TSF, citing the Interior Ministry, said 25 people had been killed in blazes in the Pedrogao Grande area about 150 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.

Authorities said 47 people died when they were caught in the fire as they drove along a road in dense woodland between Figueiro Dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

Earlier Costa said the injured included five people in critical condition as well as one child and four fighters.

During a visit to the area, Prime Minister Antonio Costa described the fire as "the biggest tragedy" the country had experienced in years and declared three days of mourning. Most died from smoke inhalation and burns.

Portugal "and the rest of the Iberian Peninsula have been suffering a heat wave for several days, with temperatures climbing above 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 Fahrenheit, in several regions", the New York Times writes.

The EU said it would provide firefighting aircraft, while France has offered three aircraft and Spain has sent two aircraft already, authorities said.

According to police, the fire, which began on Saturday afternoon, was triggered by a lightning strike.

Over 140 forest fires continued to rage across Portugal Sunday night, with over 2,000 firefighters working to bring them under control.

Some local residents said they had been left without firefighters for hours as their homes burned.

"The fire is still raging on four fronts", he said, of which two were spreading "violently".

Pope Francis has led thousands of people in a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the Portugal fire.

Avelar resident Isabel Brandao has told The Associated Press that "the problem is that there was no rain".

Thirty bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8 motorway. In August of past year, the island of Madeira was devastated by a fire that killed three people and more than a thousand had to be evacuated from their homes. The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he was "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that", Pedrogao Grande Mayor Valdemar Alves told reporters.

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

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