57 dead in central Portugal wildfires; many killed in cars

Posted June 19, 2017

A forest fire in central Portugal killed at least 19 people on Saturday, a lot of them occupants of various vehicles that were on the road and caught in the blaze, an official said in televised remarks.

Soon after the incident took place, almost 600 firefighters and 160 vehicles were sent to to tackle the blaze, which broke out in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande which is about 50 kilometres from Coimbra. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as the flames swept over a road Saturday evening.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.

Three children, aged three to six, are believed to be among the dead.

Gomes says 54 people were also injured in the fire, 5 of them seriously, including four firefighters and a minor. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".

"I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

Local television showed terrifying images of several people on a road trying to escape the intense smoke that had reduced visibility to just a few metres.

Portugal's national soccer team is wearing black arm bands and has stood for a moment of silence with the Mexican team in solidarity with the country's forest fire victims. No information has yet been given on how the others were killed.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 60 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke, while another two people perished in a traffic accident related to the fires.

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Portugal's prime minister has thanked the hundreds of firefighters combating forest fires that have killed at least 57 people. In addition, Spain has also sent aircraft on a bilateral basis.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter message: "Solidarity with Portugal, hit by bad fires".

"Sad to learn of tragic loss of lives in the forest fire in Portugal".

Over 1,600 firefighters are fighting wildfires throughout Portugal, and the country is also getting help from two Spanish planes and the European Union, which is sending reinforcements through the E.U.'s civil protection mechanism.

The European Commission's aid chief, Christos Stylianides, said in a statement that "all will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need". Portugal is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months and temperatures as high as as 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) hit the area in recent days.

Thirty bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8 motorway. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he was "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande".

President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet families of the victims, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people".

"I express my closeness to the beloved people of Portugal following the devastating fire", Francis said.