Sunday, 25 June, 2017

58 dead in central Portugal wildfires; many killed in cars

A man on the balcony of a house looks up at a forest fire raging on a hillside above the village of Avelar central Portugal before sunrise Sunday Portuguese radio says 25 people killed in forest fires
Jon Howard | 19 June, 2017, 00:44

Many homes have burned but the largest death toll occurred on a road between Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as the flames swept over a road Saturday evening.

A massive forest fire in central Portugal has killed more than 60 people, many trapped in their cars while trying to escape the flames, and injured dozens more, officials said.

Leaders from around the world have expressed their condolences and the government has declared three days of national mourning.

Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. In August of past year, the island of Madeira was devastated by a fire that killed three people and more than a thousand had to be evacuated from their homes.

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

"I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

"We have 19 confirmed deaths, all civilians", Gomes said, adding that 20 people have been injured, including six firefighters, and two people were still missing.

Around 600 firefighters are battling the flames raging in the Pedrogao Grande area, which is about 93 miles northeast of the capital Lisbon.

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

Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press on Sunday that she had feared for her life when she saw the Pedrogao Grande blaze.

Juncker wrote in the letter that "Our thoughts are with all the victims, their families and all the courageous soldiers of peace that in a very hard terrain and under challenging circumstances continue to fight this awful fire".

He said it was thought to have been sparked by a lightning strike. "At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again".

Coach Fernando Santos, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the players released a statement saying "in this sad hour, we send our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the fires". A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road.

No information was immediately given on how the others were killed.

Most victims were caught in their vehicles on the road while fleeing flames that were destroying their homes.

Though the Times reports 900 firefighters were working to combat the Pedrógão Grande fire as of noon on Sunday, the fire is still "no closer to being contained", according to Portuguese media outlets cited by the BBC.

A Spanish firefighting aircraft is assisting and another is expected to arrive later on Sunday, while France is also sending three aircraft. In addition, Spain has also sent aircraft on a bilateral basis.

The fire, which has yet to be controlled, is already one of the deadliest forest fires in Portugal in decades.

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

Portugal's civil protection agency, which coordinates firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the increased risk for forest fires in Friday.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he is "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande".

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