Country in mourning after 62 died in the Portuguese forest fire tragedy
Portugal has declared three days of mourning after at least 62 killed in forest fire that ravaged the country on Sunday. Many of them died in their cars.
The extensive fire still rages in and around the village of Pedrogao Grande near Coimbra in central Portugal. The wooded village is situated about 200 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.
-We are most likely facing the biggest tragedy we have seen in terms of loss of life, Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Sunday.
Earlier he stated that the death toll could rise. In addition to the fatalities, according to a spokesperson from the Ministry of the Interior, at least 54 are reported to be injured, including four firefighters. A minor is seriously injured.
Trapped in cars
The Portuguese television channel RTP Sunday showed Sunday footage of people trying to escape from the flames on a road where heavy smoke had reduced the line of sight to just a few meters.
The Ministry of the Interior estimates that around 30 people were killed when their cars was engulfed by flames on the road between the villages Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera. Three others died after inhaling smoke in Figueiro dos Vinhos, while the rest of the victims were found outside the cars or in the woods.
The fire is not under control. The fire is still spreading in several different directions, and at least two of the fronts are described as violent in the course of Sunday.
Difficult to extinguish
On Sunday morning, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reports that the fire is under control in two of four zones affected by the fire.
The fire broke out at 3 pm on Saturday. During Sunday, the number of firefighters and fire trucks involved in extinguishing the wall of flames in the wooded region has been increased to 700 and 200, respectively. They are supported by over 350 army soldiers, Spanish and French firefighters and extinguishing helicopters are also contributing.
– The tragedy in Pedrogao Grande is overwhelming. The Portuguese people have our solidarity and support, tweets the Spain’s Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy.
Early on Sunday the smoke was so thick that it was not possible for aircraft to participate. In the meantime, several villages have been affected, and several residential areas have burned down to the ground. It is naturally still unclear how much material damage the disaster has caused.
The cause of the fire is unclear. Portuguese authorities have stated that they prioritize extinguishing the fire and saving lives before investigating the cause of the incident.
Portuguese media, however, has in recent days reported risk of forest fires in areas such as the Algarve region in the south of the country, which is Portugal’s most popular tourist destination. The reason is very high temperatures. The local temperature in Pedrogao Grande has in recent days been around 40 degrees.
The police’s preliminary theory is that the fire was triggered by a lightning strike.
– Everything suggests natural causes, police chief Jose Almeida Rodrigues told the news agency Lusa.
Bands of sorrow
The fire tragedy is the largest that has hit Portugal in many years. It is over 50 years since 25 Portuguese soldiers died in forest fires back in 1966.
A number of European leaders have sent their condolences and expressed support for Portugal, and Pope Francis asked Catholics to pray for those who have been affected by the devastating fire.
While the flames raged on Sunday, the Portuguese National Football Team met Mexico in the Confederation Cup in Russia. The players were therefore equipped with bands of sorrow.
-In this moment of sorrow, we send our deepest sympathy to the family, friends and loved ones of those who perished in the flames, according to a statement from coach Fernando Santos, Cristiano Ronaldo and the other players.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today