Portugal battles to contain deadly wildfires amid heat, wind

Emergency services in Portugal said Tuesday they were making headway in their battle to control a major wildfire that killed 64 people in the central area of the country, but another blaze nearby grew in size and caused concern.

While several residents of the village of Pobrais were killed trying to escape roadside flames, the Ferreira family survived by taking refuge in a small water tank a few metres from their door.

The fire started during an intense heatwave - temperature soared over 40°C and thunderstorms.

Around 1,600 firefighters assisted by airplanes and helicopter were working to contain the damages. Reinforcements, including water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy, are due to arrive as part of an European Union co-operation effort.

The death toll was raised from 63 to 64 late on Monday.

Isabel Godinho (63) said, amid floods of tears, that "we lost everything, I do not how we will eat, I'm going insane".

The winds were so strong, she said, that roofs of the houses were blown out. "I thought the end of the world had come", said Maria de Fatima Nunes, another survivor.

A thick layer of white smoke blanketed either side of a motorway for about 20 kilometres yesterday, as blackened trees leaned listlessly over charred soil.

"I am shocked and horrified by the many lives claimed by today's devastating fires", said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who comes from Portugal.

"The United Nations stands ready to assist in any way possible".

A burnt-out vehicle sat outside partly destroyed and abandoned houses, while a few metres away police in face masks surrounded the corpse of a man hidden under a white sheet. At least three villages near Pedrogao Grande were evacuated.

Firefighters brought some of the blazes under control, but other wildfires still raced through inaccessible parts of the area's steep hills, the Civil Protection Agency said.

"We've heard everything burnt around our house but the house is ok". Portugal is suffering a severe heat wave with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius in many areas.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires past year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometers) of the mainland.

Officials said on Monday that 135 people had been injured by the fires, including more than a dozen firefighters. Many people were trapped in their cars after the inferno scorched the road and at least 30 motorists died in their cars.

  • Leroy Wright