'Portugal weeps' as deadly forest fire rages, 62 dead
- Author: Julie Sanders Jun 23, 2017,
Jun 23, 2017, 19:44
Anabela Silva stands in front of her house with her burnt auto in the background after a wildfire swept through Figueiro dos Vinhos on June 18, 2017.
The fire, which Prime Minister Antonio Costa called, "a dimension of human tragedy that we can not remember", started Saturday and was still burning as of Sunday afternoon, requiring the attention of around 1,600 firefighters over the weekend.
More than 60 people are dead and over 100 injured. The Portuguese Secretary of State for Internal Administration, Jorge Gomes, confirmed that over half of those killed had been trapped in their vehicles as the fire tore through the densely forested area between Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pêra. Just over 1,000 firefighters are still tackling that blaze about 90 miles (150km) north of Lisbon.
Many victims were burnt as they were trapped in their cars around the epicentre of the blaze in Pedrogao Grande, in what is the deadliest such disaster in Portugal's recent history.
But Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal's Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University, notes that around 90 percent of landowners have smallholdings, making it hard for authorities to oversee them all.
President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet families of the victims, "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people", he said.
There are over 1,600 firefighters working across Portugal to control the fire, with police and military units drafted into service to assist. "We pray in silence".
The deaths, the most in memory caused by forest fires in Portugal, have shown shortcomings in communication systems to evacuate people from villages.
Local officials feared the death toll may rise as as hundreds of firefighters continue to battle the blaze in Pedrogão Grande. "I never thought it would come to this side", she said.
There is a broad consensus that more work is needed on fire prevention, starting with forest clearing and the creation of fire breaks.
Portuguese police detectives said forestry guards and investigators were able to determine the tree struck by lightning on Saturday during the dry thunderstorm in the Pedrogao Grande area.
Dozens of terrified civilians fled their homes after the forest fires broke out in Portugal and during their escape, they spoke about the hard scenes. Three more firefighting planes arrived from France Sunday afternoon and two Italian aircraft are expected to arrive as soon as possible, according to the European Commission. In the throes of a heatwave, temperatures soared to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) across the region.
"Some people stayed. Now we're waiting to see". Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he is "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande". Sousa also spoke to the people caught in the tragedy praising them of the human warmth and solidarity that they displayed.