Mon, Jun 19, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Forest fire kills dozens in Portugal

Reuters, LISBON

A forest fire is yesterday reflected in a river in Penela, central Portugal.

Photo: AFP

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

“It is the greatest tragedy of human lives that we’ve witnessed in Portugal in years,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in televised comments.

He was headed to the site yesterday following a visit by the president.

The government sent two army battalions to help the emergency services in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 200km northeast of Lisbon.

The EU said it would provide firefighting aircraft, while France has offered three aircraft and Spain has sent two aircraft already, authorities said.

“All will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need,” European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Christos Stylianides said in a statement.

“Solidarity with Portugal, hit by terrible fires. Our thoughts are with victims. France makes its aid available to Portugal,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.

The death toll released by Portuguese Secretary of State for Internal Affairs Jorge Gomes has gradually climbed from the 19 initially announced on Saturday.

Gomes said most of the victims were caught in their vehicles on the road.

In one village of Nodeirinho, 11 residents have died, where state television RTP showed burned-out cars and blackened houses. Shocked residents spoke of a whole family that was trying to flee their home in a car, but got caught in “a tornado of flames.”

“It does not seem real, it is out of this world... It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that,” Pedrogao Grande Mayor Valdemar Alves told reporters.

More than 20 villages have been affected.

At least another 59 people have been injured and taken to hospitals, including five in serious condition.

The blaze on Saturday hit the mountainous area of Pedrogao Grande amid an intense heat wave and rainless thunderstorms. Police said a lightning striking a tree probably caused the fire.

Hundreds of firefighters were still battling the flames yesterday. Various local highways were shut for safety reasons.

“The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently ... but we’re doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire,” Gomes said, adding that no villages were currently at risk.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited the site of the tragedy during the night and later expressed his condolences.

The “situation is unfortunately atypical” he said. “It was not possible to do more than what has been done” in prevention and the immediate response.

Television footage showed hundreds of local residents being treated for smoke intoxication in emergency services tents set up in the area. Many who lost their homes were transferred to temporary shelters.

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