Death toll at least 64, rain of no relief in Portugal fires
Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 1:52 PM - European humanitarian aid official reports confirm that fires continue to burn in central Portugal, which remains under a major heatwave, days after a massive blaze killed at least 60 people in the region Saturday overnight.
The Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) said on Tuesday that two major fires are still ongoing, one in Pedrogao Grande and another in Gois.
Local officials raised the death toll to 64 Tuesday as more than 1,000 firefighters and soldiers continue to battle massive blazes on several fronts across the region. It is reported that many of those killed were trapped in their cars while trying to flee the towering flames.
Over 100 fires raged across the country by the weekend, involving hundreds of firefighters and numerous aircraft. Wildfires are common in Portugal during the summer months, and it is reported that these were started by a lightning strike, with the rapid pace of growth fueled by high winds. The short-term forecast shows rain is falling in the affected areas, but it is not enough to relieve the exhausted emergency personnel and residents.
"There is still a lot of forest that can burn and the rain does not make much difference," Rui Barreto, deputy chief firefighter at the makeshift emergency services headquarters in Pedrogao Grande, said.
“The national director of the Judiciary Police (PJ) told [The Lusa News Agency] the fire that broke out on Saturday […] originated in a dry thunderstorm, removing any signs of criminal origin,” Expresso reports.
The municipality of Pedrógão Grande, east of Coimbra, is a community of about 2,000 residents.
Several stories of survival are starting to surface in the wake of the fires, including one where a some residents, including a disabled 95-year-old woman, spent more than six hours in a water tank as the fire prevented them from being rescued.
During a press conference, Costa described the events as “the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires.”
RTP News Portugal reported that Portuguese Secretary of State for Internal Affairs, Jorge Gomes, said that 30 people died in their cars as they tried to flee to safety.
Along with a state of emergency, a national mourning has also been declared.
Below: Massive wildfire in Portugal takes the lives of dozens