57 dead in central Portugal wildfires; many killed in cars

57 dead in central Portugal wildfires; many killed in cars

Authorities said the number of victims may rise as firefighters inspect the villages affected.

A huge forest fire raging since Saturday in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, majority dying in their cars as they tried to flee, the government said on Sunday.

Two Britons have been caught up in the Portuguese forest fires, receiving minor burns in the tragedy that has claimed 61 lives.

Thirty of the victims had been killed in their cars as they tried to escape the flames, Mr Gomes said.

European countries are coming together to assist Portugal. Police and firefighters were searching charred areas of the forest and isolated homes, looking for more bodies.

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for the victims of the blaze.

"The dimension of this fire was such that we don't have memory of such a human tragedy", Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in Pedrogao Grande, the mountainous region about 200 km (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon.

"Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures", the wire service notes.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires previous year which devastated more than 1000 square kilometres of the mainland.

At least four other significant wildfires were burning Sunday elsewhere in Portugal but the one in Pedrogao Grande was responsible for all the deaths.

The exact cause of the blaze has not yet been determined.

A Portuguese interior ministry official says that the death toll in the forest fires raging in central Portugal has increased to 39. Minister of Internal Administration Constanca Urbano de Sousa, also in Pedrogao, said that "when this ends" an assessment will be made about what happened, according to RTP. He said authorities were anxious about strong winds that could help spread the blaze further.

Some 60 forest fires broke out across the country during the night, with around 1,700 firefighters battling to put them out.

The forest fires are the worst to have hit Portugal since 1966, when 25 soldiers died fighting several blazes.

Pope Francis has led thousands of people in a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the Portugal fire. "The flames passed within 2 or 3 kilometers of my house", said local resident Isabel Ferreira, 62.

"The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently. but we're doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire", Gomes said, adding that no villages were now at risk.

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