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62 killed as forest fire rages in Portugal

LISBON, June 18, 2017

A catastrophic forest fire in Portugal has claimed at least 62 lives, including four children. Majority of the victims died from smoke inhalation and burns, reported BBC, citing government officials.

Most died while trying to flee the Pedrógão Grande area, 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Coimbra, in their cars, they said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires".

The death toll could rise further as many people remain missing, he warned. The authorities have declared three days of national mourning, starting on Sunday, said the BBC report.

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze, which has spread across several fronts. Many of the victims were trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, reported The Inquirer.

Firefighting crews were having difficulties in battling the fire, which was “very violent” in at least two of its four fronts, it stated.

The European Union said it had activated its civil protection efforts responding to a call for assistance by Portuguese authorities.

A Spanish firefighting aircraft was already assisting on Sunday morning and another one was expected to arrive later in the day. France was also sending three aircraft, said the report.

A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area after investigators found a tree that was hit during a “dry thunderstorm,” the head of the national judicial police told Portuguese media.

Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande. “I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said that the majority of the victims died from smoke inhalation and burns, while two died in a road accident related to the fires.

He earlier said 30 bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8 motorway.
Another 11 died in a village next to the motorway.

Media in Portugal say the fire is no closer to being contained despite hundreds of firefighters and 300 vehicles working to put it out.

Among the dozens of people injured was an eight-year-old girl with burns found wandering alone close to the fire, the Correio do Manhã newspaper reported.
 
About 60 forest fires broke out across the country overnight, with close to 1,700 firefighters battling them across Portugal.




Tags: forest fire | killed | Portugal |

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