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Portugal forest fires: At least 57 killed, many in cars overrun by blaze

At least 57 individuals have been killed in a number of raging forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a highway, officers mentioned Sunday.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes mentioned at least 16 individuals had been killed when their automobiles had been engulfed by flames on a highway between the cities of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, Sky News reported.

“The smoke cloud may be very low, which doesn’t permit helicopters and hearth planes to work effectively, however we’re doing every little thing doable and unimaginable to place out this hearth, ” he mentioned.

Nearly 60 different individuals had been injured, together with 4 firefighters and a significantly injured minor, Gomes advised state broadcaster RTP.

RTP confirmed terrifying photos of a number of individuals on a highway attempting to flee the extraordinary smoke that had lowered visibility to a query of some yards forward. A younger man was seen sharing a bottle of water with a distraught lady as she stumbled down the highway.

A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande space after investigators discovered a tree that was hit throughout a “dry thunderstorm,” the pinnacle of the nationwide judicial police advised Portuguese media. Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates earlier than reaching the bottom due to excessive temperatures. Authorities had beforehand mentioned that 104 F warmth in latest days may need performed a component in the inferno about 95 miles northeast of Lisbon. About 700 firefighters have been attempting to place out the fires since Saturday, Gomes mentioned.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa known as the latest fires “the most important tragedy of human life that we now have recognized in years.”

Costa mentioned that firefighting crews had been having difficulties in approaching the world as a result of the hearth was “very intense.” He added that Portuguese authorities had been engaged on figuring out the victims and that Spanish rescuers would help in efforts to regulate the blazes.

“The precedence now could be to avoid wasting these individuals who might nonetheless be in hazard,” he mentioned Sunday.

An enormous wall of thick smoke and vivid pink flames towered excessive of bushes close to homes in the wooded area. Local resident Isabel Brandao advised The Associated Press that she had feared for her life.

“Yesterday we noticed the hearth however thought it was very far. I by no means thought it will come to this facet,” she mentioned. “At three:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up rapidly and we by no means went to sleep once more. We had been afraid the hearth would attain us.”

Portugal’s civil safety company, which coordinates the firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the elevated threat for forest fires in Friday. Citing the excessive temperatures, it mentioned that each one out of doors fires had been prohibited.

The European Union has activated its civil safety efforts to assist Portugal extinguish the fires. EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides expressed his condolences for the victims in an announcement, saying the “EU is absolutely prepared to assist.”

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Stylianides says that in response to a request for assist by Portugal, Spain and France are each sending plane to assist combat the flames. France is sending three planes, whereas Spain has despatched a number of firefighting plane, together with two water-bombing planes, to assist combat the fires.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he’s “overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. The Portuguese individuals can depend on our solidarity, assist and care.”

Read more from Sky News.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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