Published: Mon, June 19, 2017
World | By Carl Welch

Portugal in mourning as dozens killed in raging forest fires

Portugal in mourning as dozens killed in raging forest fires

A forest fire that engulfed villages in central Portugal has killed 62 people, trapping most of the victims in their cars, a government official said on Sunday.

Three days of mourning have been declared in Portugal.

Hundreds of firefighters are battling the huge fire that Portuguese officials believe may have been sparked by lightning.

"Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures", the wire service notes.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires past year which devastated more than 1,000 square kilometres of the mainland.

Most died while trying to flee the Pedrógão Grande area, 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Coimbra, in their cars, they said. "I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

Gomes says 54 people have also been injured, 5 of them seriously, including four firefighters and a minor.

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 could at one point be seen towering over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

Avelar resident Isabel Brandao has told The Associated Press that "the problem is that there was no rain. Let us pray in silence", he said.

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. The other three deaths were from smoke inhalation, the official said, adding that 21 people were being treated for injuries.

Authorities said the the conditions may have played a part.

"We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones", the European Commission, executive arm of the European Union, said in a statement Sunday.

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

Around 1,600 firefighters have been desperately battling wildfires that broke out in central Portugal early Sunday morning.

In a tweet on Sunday, Mr Costa sent his "deepest regret for the victims. and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge".

Nearly 24 hours after the deaths Saturday night, fires were still churning across the forested hillsides of central Portugal. "I don't want to talk yet about the cause of the fire because we are facing the greatest tragedy of human lives so, what we must do now is to calmly provide all the resources to fight the fires".

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