Portugal forest fires kill 43, many burn to death in their cars

Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 11:15am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 5:34pm

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 43 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Sunday called “the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years”

The death toll initially stood at 25 in the early morning and the updated figure was given by public broadcaster RTP said the death toll, citing Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes.

The fatalities occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, where about 600 firefighters have been trying to put out the fires since Saturday, Gomes said.

Gomes said that at least 16 people were killed when their vehicles were engulfed by flames on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

 Firefighters rest during the wildfire. Photo: AFP

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

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

Spanish state television showed terrifying images from the neighbouring country of several people on a road trying to escape the intense smoke that had reduced visibility to a question of a few meters. A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road.

Local resident Isabel Brandao said that she had feared for her life.

 Firefighters work to contain the forest fire. Photo: EPA

“Yesterday we saw the fire but thought it was very far. I never thought it would come to this side,” she said.

“At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us.”

RTP said there are at least another 20 people injured, including six firefighters. Fourteen of the injured were in serious condition, RTP said.

Dry thunderstorms could have been the cause of the fatal blaze, according to the prime minister.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

 A firefighter helps a woman during the forest fire. Photo: EPA

“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.”

Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was “very intense.”

He added that Portuguese authorities were working on identifying the victims and that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.

 Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (L) embraces Secretary of State of Internal Administration Jorge Gomes. Photo: EPA

Costa said that while investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the fire, authorities believe that the high temperatures of 40 Celsius in recent days may have played a part.

Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires last year which devastated more than 1,000 square kilometres of the mainland.

Fires on the tourist island of Madeira in August killed three people, while over the course of 2016 around 40 homes were destroyed and 5,400 hectares of land burned.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse

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2 Responses to “Portugal forest fires kill 43, many burn to death in their cars”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

  2. Brittius Says:

    Reblogged this on Brittius.

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