62 dead in central Portugal wildfires; many killed in cars

Portugal Forest Fires

Portugal Forest Fires

The flowing expanse of hills situated between Pedrogao Grande, Figueiro do Vinhos to the west and Castanheira de Pera to the north, which 24 hours before had glowed bright green with eucalyptus plants and pine trees, were completely gutted by the flames.

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 62 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what the prime minister on Sunday called "the biggest tragedy" the country has experienced in years.

The Portuguese government has declared the state of emergency in the fire area, and also a three-day national mourning from Sunday and Tuesday.

Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures.

Eight firefighters are among the more than 50 people injured in the fire, which is raging in several parts of a mountainous area some 200km north-east of the capital Lisbon.

"This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions", said Valdemar Alves, the mayor of Pedrogao Grande.

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Gomes says 54 people were also injured in the fire, 5 of them seriously, including four firefighters and a minor.

The deadly blaze, which was just one of dozens that broke out Saturday, ravaged the heavily wooded municipality of Pedrogão Grande, roughly 100 miles from Lisbon.

Some 700 firefighters have been working to tackle the flames since Saturday.

Eleven others died nearby as a wall of flame and dense black smoke tore through the forest.

Juncker wrote in the letter that "Our thoughts are with all the victims, their families and all the fearless soldiers of peace that in a very hard terrain and under challenging circumstances continue to fight this bad fire". "At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us". A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road. He said there was no information on the other two deaths. According to officials, most of the victims died in their cars along a single road as they attempted to escape.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the huge fire that Portuguese officials believe may have been sparked by lightning. "The EU is fully ready to help".

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France is sending three planes, while Spain has sent several firefighting aircraft.

The loss of life due to a forest fire was the biggest in memory in Portugal.

The forest fire deaths were the biggest in memory in Portugal, which saw 25 Portuguese soldiers die fighting wildfires in 1966. "Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires", a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

According to the prime minister, just 11 fires are still active but he said the authorities were "particularly anxious about two of them".

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

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter message: "Solidarity with Portugal, hit by awful fires".

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