Thursday, 21 September, 2017

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

Portuguese firefighters work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar in central Portugal at sunrise Sunday View Slideshow
Kenny Thornton | 19 June, 2017, 11:44

A forest fire raging in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people in what is possibly the deadliest-ever single forest blaze in Portugal.

Huge clouds of smoke and red flames enveloped the forested Pedrogao Grande area some 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of the capital city Lisbon.

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

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said 62 people burned to death, mostly trapped in their cars engulfed by flames in the Leiria region. Minister of Internal Administration Constanca Urbano de Sousa, also in Pedrogao, said that "when this ends" an assessment will be made about what happened, according to RTP.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it a "tragedy of a big dimension".

The municipality's Mayor, Valdemar Alves, said there were areas "completely surrounded" by the wildfire and that there were no enough firefighters to extinguish the fire.

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

"The number of fatalities could still rise", Costa said. Spain dispatched four water-bombing aircraft Sunday morning, and three firefighting planes arrived from France in the afternoon.

Wigan student killed in 'brutal' attack named as Ellen Higginbottom
The police have said that her disappearance appeared to be "extremely out of character" and that an investigation is underway. Police said early investigations had unearthed a report of two young women being followed by two men in the area on Thursday.

Portugal's men's soccer team, slated to play in a Confederations Cup match on Sunday, enlisted the help of their opponent from Mexico before the game, as the two teams held a moment of silence for the people who lost their lives over the weekend.

The fires began on Saturday during an intense heatwave and rainless thunderstorms, with temperatures of more than 40C (104F) in some areas.

Authorities say other victims could be found as searches continue.

The government declared Sunday through Tuesday as national days of mourning for the victims of a fire "which has caused an irreparable loss of human life". Two more Spanish airplanes and two Italian aircraft will also be deployed, according to the European Commission. Portuguese officials are visibly shocked.

At least another 59 were injured.

Portugal's National Civil Protection Authority warned that high temperatures and potentially strong winds could aggravate the fire. Dry thunderstorms are one of the possible causes of the fires.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires previous year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometres) of the mainland.

He said 17 others died right outside their cars or by the road, 11 people died in the forest and two people died in a vehicle accident related to the fire.

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