THE deadliest forest fire in decades has killed 62 people, including several fire fighters, in Portugal.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa has called the disaster, which was sparked by a lightening strike on Saturday, the “biggest tragedy of human life” they have seen in years.
“For sure, we are going to find some more victims,” Costa said.
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Two of the four zones affected by the blaze have been brought under control according to Senior Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes.
Victims have been found in burt-out vahicles in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150 kilometres north-east of Lisbon.
“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Pedrogao Grande Mayor Valdemar Alves.
“I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”
Gomes, who is at the civil defence service’s central command in Pedrogao Grande, the area worst hit by the blaze, said the deployment of firefighting aircraft and helicopters had been delayed yesterday due to thick smoke.
High temperatures, extremely dry conditions and strong winds also hampered efforts to tackle the fire, he added.
Costa has announced three days of mourning, starting from today, and a moment of silence has been announced for the victims of the blaze at the Confed Cup football match between Portugal and Mexico.
Almost 700 firefighters and more than 200 fire engines have been deployed to tackle the flames, according to the civil defence service. Two planes were also dumping water on the blaze.
Firefighting aircraft were being sent from France and Spain, while in a statement German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also offered assistance.
“The EU is fully ready to help. All will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need,” the statement said.