Portugal raises death toll back to 62

Rufina Vignone
Giugno 20, 2017

More than 1,500 firefighters in Portugal are still battling to control major wildfires in the central region of the country, where one blaze killed 62 people.

Scores of people have been killed in wildfires burning in the Portuguese area of Leiria, including a forested area known as Pedrogao Grande, on the weekend of June 17-18.

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

Interior minister Jorge Gomes said 18 of those burned to death had been trapped in their cars engulfed by flames on the road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

The public broadcaster RTP reported that among the injured people there were 4 firefighters and 1 minor.

Firefighters said the weather conditions were still adverse in most areas where the flames were raging. Portugal's Social Welfare Department is providing social support for the displaced through 400 social welfare officials, assisted by the Portuguese Red Cross (see further details below).

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

The Judicial Police told Efe that the police had ruled out arson and pointed to lightning striking a tree as the most likely cause of the deadly fire.

Portugal has suffered high temperatures that have reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degress Fahrenheit) in recent days.

Isabel Brandao, who lives in the area, declared for the Associated Press that she was scared to death by the fires.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker commended the bravery of the firefighters and said that the EU civil protection mechanism was activated and would provide help.

And though Portuguese fire experts said on Sunday that it was hard to say for sure how the fires had spread so rapidly, environmentalists warned that the country needed to urgently improve its forest management and fire monitoring.

Pope Francis, who visited Portugal last month, mentioned the victims in his weekly address: "I express my closeness to the beloved people of Portugal following the devastating fire". France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter message: "Solidarity with Portugal, hit by awful fires".

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.

The death of 62 people in Portuguese wildfires has brought growing criticism of authorities for not doing more to prevent the tragedy.

Just a few kilometres away, near Avelar, smoke was rising from a forest of pine and eucalyptus, as helicopters flying above dropped water to isolate the fire.

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".

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