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.
"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.
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