Portugal forest fire: 'It does not seem real, it is out of this world'

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning following a fire that started about 200km north-east of Lisbon before spreading fast across several fronts. More than 20 villages have been affected. Burnt cars and body bags on a road near the Pe
Burnt cars and body bags on a road near the Pedrogao Grande district in central Portugal yesterday. Many of those killed in the forest fire that broke out last Saturday burned to death in their cars.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Portugal has declared three days of national mourning following a fire that started about 200km north-east of Lisbon before spreading fast across several fronts. More than 20 villages have been affected. Burnt cars and body bags on a road near the Pe
Portugal has declared three days of national mourning following a fire that started about 200km north-east of Lisbon before spreading fast across several fronts. More than 20 villages have been affected.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

PENELA (Portugal) • A raging forest fire in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, most of whom burned to death in their cars, and injured scores of others.

Portugal declared three days of national mourning from yesterday as nearly 600 firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched late on Saturday to tackle the blaze.

It broke out in the afternoon in the Pedrogao Grande district, about 200km north-east of Lisbon, before spreading fast across several fronts.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires," a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

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"The number of fatalities could still rise," he added at the Civil Protection headquarters near Lisbon. "The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger."

In the village of Nodeirinho, where 11 residents died, state television RTP showed burned-out cars and blackened houses.

Shocked residents told of a whole family that was trying to flee its home in a car but got caught in "a tornado of flames".

"It does not seem real, it is out of this world... It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that," Pedrogao Grande Mayor Valdemar Alves told reporters. More than 20 villages have been affected.

A forest fire raging near Penela in central Portugal yesterday. The blaze began last Saturday and turned into a conflagration within 24 hours, killing at least 62 people, many of them while they were still trapped in their cars. Nearly 600 firefighte
Forest fire in Portugal kills at least 62: A forest fire raging near Penela in central Portugal yesterday. The blaze began last Saturday and turned into a conflagration within 24 hours, killing at least 62 people, many of them while they were still trapped in their cars. Nearly 600 firefighters were deployed to fight the fire, which hit the country amid a severe heatwave over the weekend, with temperatures exceeding 40 deg C in several regions. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The European Union said it would provide firefighting planes following a request from Lisbon.

"France has offered three planes through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and they will be quickly sent to assist the local emergency efforts," EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said.

 

Portugal was sweltering under a severe heatwave across the weekend, with temperatures exceeding 40 deg C in several regions. Some 60 forest fires broke out across the country during the night, with around 1,700 firefighters battling to put them out.

Dry thunderstorms were thought to have been the cause of the fatal blaze, according to Mr Costa.

A number of villages were affected by the main fire and homes were evacuated. Some residents were sheltered in neighbouring areas.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Portugal forest fire: 'It does not seem real, it is out of this world''. Print Edition | Subscribe