Questions over fire response as Portugal battles blaze

Portugal's Civil Protection agency said the town of Góis, some 40 km from the forest fire's epicenter in the Pedrógão Grande region was now the most unsafe zone in the area affected by the fire, Efe news reported.

"I myself thought that a Canadair had fallen", Prime Minister António Costa said of the confusion, as cited by Publico.

At least 64 people have died and over 150 injured in the blazes, which broke out in Pedrogao Grande over the weekend and spread quickly to other areas. An Instituto Nacional de Emergência Médica (INEM) helicopter was dispatched to the scene, TVI reports, as cited by Publico. Her office immediately sent a crash investigation team to the area.

It comes after an official with Portugal's Air Accident Office said they were aware of a reported crash of one of the planes helping to tackle fires that have killed more than 60 people in central Portugal.

A couple standing on top of a hill look at the damage of the forest fire in Serra do Macario, central Portugal, Tuesday, June 20 2017. He says that more than 1,200 firefighters are on duty at the blaze.

A fire chief reopened the debate over Portugal's deadly forest blaze Wednesday, arguing it had a criminal origin, as hundreds of firefighters struggled to contain it.

Mr Costa asked the national civil protection agency, the weather institute and police for a report on what went wrong, and also asked why a road, where many people died in their cars, had not been closed off. He said a local woman told him she saw a plane crash in a fireball on Tuesday.

But in a weird sequence of events, officials with the Portuguese government and the Civil Protection Agency said they could not confirm a crash had taken place.

"We are investigating if (the reports) are true", Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said. Commander Vitor Vaz Pinto told reporters said the Gois wildfire was "very fast and very explosive" and had forced the evacuation of 11 hill villages. There, about 1,100 firefighters supported by 14 water-dropping aircraft battled the flames, which officials said they expected to extinguish by Wednesday night.

  • Julie Sanders