• Monday, Oct 25, 2021
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Portugal in mourning as firefighters still battle deadly wildfire

  • Published at 05:07 pm June 19th, 2017
Portugal in mourning as firefighters still battle deadly wildfire

More than 1,000 firefighters on Monday battled a giant forest fire that swept through central Portugal at the weekend, killing at least 62 people.

The country was in mourning after the deadliest such disaster in Portugal's recent history, with many victims burnt as they were trapped in their cars.

"The fire has reached a level of human tragedy that we have never seen before," said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who announced three days of mourning from Sunday.

Portugal's national route 236 was transformed into a road of hell as the ferocious blaze ripped through the wooded countryside around the epicentre in Pedrogao Grande.

Although the searing temperatures in Portugal had dropped slightly on Monday, the fire was still raging, spreading to neighbouring regions of Castelo Branco and Coimbra.

Firefighters were continuing a grim search for bodies, with Costa warning on Sunday that the death toll could still rise.

Police chief Almeida Rodrigues blamed dry thunderstorms for the blaze which broke out on Saturday in Pedrogao Grande, saying a tree had been struck by lightning.

The expanse of wooded hills in the area north of Lisbon, which 24 hours before had glowed bright green with eucalyptus plants and pine trees, was gutted by the flames.

A thick layer of white smoke blanketed either side of a motorway for about 20km on Sunday, as blackened trees leaned listlessly over charred soil.

A burnt-out car sat outside partly destroyed and abandoned houses, while a few metres away police in face masks surrounded the corpse of a man hidden under a white sheet.

'Sharing their pain'

Portugal was sweltering under a severe heatwave over the weekend, with temperatures topping 40°C in several regions.

About 35 forest fires continued to burn across the country on Monday, with more than 2,000 firefighters and 660 vehicles mobilised.

Dozens of people who fled their homes were taken in by residents of the nearby municipality of Ansiao.

President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet victims' families, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people".

Portugal was hit by a series of fires last year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares of the mainland.

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

In 1966, a blaze in the forest of Sintra, west of Lisbon killed 25 soldiers trying to battle the flames.

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