62 killed by devastating forest fire in Portugal (Third Lead)

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Lisbon, June 19 (IANS) An out-of-control forest fire in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people and injured 57, according to updated figures provided on Sunday by the government.

Secretary of State for Internal Administration Joao Gomes reported that the number of deaths had increased as a result of the devastating wildfires that erupted on Saturday in the vicinity of Pedrogao Grande, a small rural town near the city of Coimbra, and remained uncontrolled due to strong winds, reports Efe.

Gomes, who was tasked with delivering the latest information available to authorities, said that the return of adverse gales and crosswinds would further impede extinction efforts.

He added that firefighters hoped to “shortly” extinguish two of the four separate fronts on which the blaze remained active.

The fire’s epicentre is located some 190 km to the northeast of Lisbon.

Gomes previously said that at least 30 victims, including entire families, were found dead in their vehicles on two roads in the Leiria district that were blocked by the flames’ advance, trapping motorists in the inferno.

Another 17 bodies were found next to the roads and 10 were recovered from the rural areas surrounding them.

Gomes also said that eight firefighters were among the injured — four of them in serious condition.

Meanwhile, teams of psychologists have been deployed to attend to survivors, who were reportedly “in shock” and in many cases had lost relatives in the tragedy.

In addition to the Portuguese rescue teams that arrived from the cities of Coimbra, Setubal and Lisbon, two Spanish aircraft were aiding extinction efforts, while the arrival of French support was also expected.

The flames spread during Saturday afternoon in a way that “has no explanation”, Gomes said, after strong winds turned a low-scale fire into an uncontrollable wildfire.

“Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Sources from Portugal’s Judicial Police said that the likely cause of the fire was a bolt of lightning that struck a dry tree in the heavily-forested area.

High temperatures and a lack of rainfall were major factors that allowed the flames to spread very quickly, thus trapping many of the people attempting to flee Pedrogao by car.

–IANS

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