Wildfire kills 43 in Portugal, deadliest in decades

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Devastating forest fires in Portugal have killed 43 as many of the deaths were people incinerated after being caught by surprise and trapped in their cars.

Almost 60 people, including several children, have also been injured as temperatures topped 40C yesterday and making it one of the nation’s deadliest fire tragedies.

Four fire-fighters and a child were described as “seriously hurt.”

More than 50 fires are said to be burning across the country involving about 2,000 fire-fighters after intense heat combined with strong winds to fan the flames.

Fernando Lopes, head of the town hall in Castanheira de Pera near the central Portuguese city of Leiria close to where many people were killed after being trapped in their cars on a rural road, said: “This is a catastrophic situation.

“It is chaotic.

“Many houses have been burnt down in several localities but we do not know yet for sure how many.”

The fire broke out in the nearby municipality of Pedrogao Grande yesterday afternoon and spread rapidly in a way which Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said had been “inexplicable.”

The fire, which has yet to be controlled, is already one of the deadliest forest fires in Portugal in decades.

At least 16 people died in their vehicles, while others were killed from smoke inhalation next to a cemetery.

According to Mirror, two fire-fighters are still missing.

Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited the scene of the tragedy overnight and was pictured in an emotional embrace with his minister Jorge Gomes.

They appeared overwhelmed by the scale and devastation the fires had caused.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the tragedy “the worst loss of human life we’ve known in recent years.”

One of the casualties includes an eight-year-old child, rescued by a firefighter as he searched for a vehicle which was being used to tackle the Pedrogao Grande blaze.

The fire-gutted truck was discovered after the youngster, who was badly burnt and alone, was rushed to hospital.

A traumatised woman sits on a street during a forest fire in Pedrogao Grande
A traumatised woman sits on a street during a forest fire in Pedrogao Grande

Pedrogao Grande mayor Valdemar Alves has sparked fears the final death toll could near 100.

He claimed he was convinced the number of dead was going to “be more than double” when the number of dead was still officially at 39.

Several villages have been described as “surrounded by flames” and unreachable to the emergency services.

The blazes were still active on four fronts Sunday morning.

Portugal’s Minister for Internal Administration, Constanca Urbano de Sousa, said: “When this is all over we will assess what happened.

“But now this is a moment of pain, of suffering and we need to give our fire-fighters strength to tackle these flames.

“They are fighting a cowardly enemy and we have to support them as they act on the ground.”

Footage broadcast by Portuguese media showed desperate drivers turning round on a smoke-filled rural road which had become impassable because of the fire.

The video is believed to have been shot on the road where many of the victims lost their lives after being burnt to death in their vehicles.

Another traumatic picture showed a woman sat on the side of the road with her head in her hands, as rescuers brought others to safety.

The cause of the fires is not yet known.

However, the difficulties tackling the blazes were blamed by Jaime Marta Soares, president of Portugal’s League of Fire-fighters, on the condition of the country’s woods and forests.

This is combined with high temperatures, strong winds and low levels of humidity.

credit: NAN

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