Portugal forest fires: Three days of mourning for 62 victims

Portugal forest fires: Three days of mourning for 62 victims

  • 18 June 2017
  • From the section Europe

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Media captionResidents watch on as their homes blaze in Pedrogao Grande

Portugal has declared three days of mourning for the 62 victims of one of the country’s deadliest forest fires.

Four children are among the victims, many of whom were found dead inside their cars as they tried to flee the central forested region of Pedrógão Grande.

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze on several fronts.

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

He said it was thought to have been sparked by a lightning strike.

In pictures: Portugal forest fire

Eight firefighters are among the more than 50 people injured in the fire, which is raging in several parts of a mountainous area some 200km north-east of the capital Lisbon.

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Reuters

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The wildfires spread fast on Saturday, and across several fronts

There are fears the death toll could rise, as a number of people are still missing. The period of national mourning ends on Tuesday.

Bodies found inside cars

Emergency service workers were battling 156 fires across the country on Sunday, Prime Minister Costa said, adding that most of the victims had died in just one of them.

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said that most had died from smoke inhalation and burns, while two were killed in a road accident related to the fires.

Thirty bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8 motorway.

Another 11 died in a village next to the motorway.

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EPA

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Some of the hundreds of firefighters tackling the blaze were injured

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AFP/Getty Images

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The search for victims of the fire has continued into Sunday

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EPA

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More than 50 people were injured

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.

France has offered 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.

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AFP/Getty Images

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Firefighters pause as the wildfire continues behind them

The fires began during an intense heatwave and rainless thunderstorms, with temperatures of more than 40C (104F) in some areas. Police say lightning striking a tree may have caused the fire.

“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.”


What happens next? Alison Roberts, BBC News, Lisbon

We have had large-scale fires before over the past couple of decades – this year is not unusual in that respect – but it is certainly unusual to have so many fatalities in one place. Portuguese officials are visibly shocked.

There were very particular circumstances with the lightning strikes here – this fire started with a dry lightning strike. There has been rainfall elsewhere but there was no rain there, and this is a heavily-forested area.

Getting it under control depends not only on temperatures, which do seem as though they will be high, but on the wind above all. It is very much in the hands of Mother Nature.


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