61 victims claimed by wild fires in Portugal and 3 days of mourning declared. The country has suffered one of its deadliest forest fires in decades. Many of the victims were found dead trapped in their cars as they tried to escape from the central forested region of Pedrógão Grande. Four children are among the deceased and four firefighters among 54 people injured by the fire.
Scores of firefighters are continuing to battle the oncoming blaze at several fronts. Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it “the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires”. Officially, the source of the fire is thought to have been a lightning strike. The fire is not raging in several hillside parts encompassing a large area 200 km north-east of Lisbon – Portugal’s capitol. The death toll could rise as officially a number of people are still not accounted for and listed as missing.
30 bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles on a path converging with the IC8 motorway. Another 11 died in a village next to the motorway.
More than 1,600 firefighters are fighting five of the main fires, supported by about 400 vehicles and 18 aircraft, Portugal’s Público reports. According to the prime minister, just 11 fires are still active but he said the authorities were “particularly worried about two of them”. They have sent two army battalions to help the emergency services.
The devastation was indescribable
“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” Valdemar Alves, the mayor of Pedrógão Grande, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press agency. “I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”
France has offered Portugal three firefighting planes, while Spain has already sent two water-bombing aircraft to help tackle the fires. The European Union has also promised to provide firefighting aircraft. Dozens of people who fled their homes have been taken in by residents of the nearby municipality of Ansiao.