Portugal in mourning as dozens killed in raging forest fires

Posted June 19, 2017

A huge forest fire raging since Saturday in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, majority dying in their cars as they tried to flee, the government said on Sunday.

The fire remains highly active, with hundreds of fire-fighters battling the blaze on four separate fronts.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was "very intense". The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages. The rest of the bodies were found outside of the cars or in the forest, the official said. Most died from smoke inhalation and burns.

"It is a time of pain but also. a time to carry on the fight" against the flames, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told the nation in a televised address Sunday evening after the government declared three days of national mourning.

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

More news: Portugal, Mexico meet early in Confederations Cup

"The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently. but we're doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire", Gomes said, adding that no villages were now at risk.

On Sunday, Costa also tweeted his "deepest regret for the victims. and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge". "The flames passed within two or three kilometres of my house", said local resident Isabel Ferreira, 62. According to the government, most of the people who were killed died trying to escape their vehicles when the flames unexpectedly whipped across the road. "It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that".

The authorities said very low smoke clouds prevented helicopters and fire planes dropping water on the flames efficiently for most of the day.

A forest fire is seen near Tojeira, Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017. In addition, Spain has also sent aircraft on a bilateral basis.

Francis visited the Portuguese shrine of Fatima last month.

More news: Warriors say no decision has been made on White House visit

A wildfire is reflected in a stream at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he was "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande".

Games said the fatalities occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150km northeast of Lisbon, where about firefighters have been trying to put out the fires since Saturday, Gomes said.

"Many cars could not get out, and people burned to death inside their cars", Jorge Gomes, Portuguese secretary of state of internal administration, told CNN affiliate TVI. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".

The forest fires are the worst to have hit Portugal since 1966, when 25 soldiers died fighting several blazes.

More news: MMA star Matt Hughes injured after train collides with truck