Lisbon, June 20 (IANS) The death toll in a catastrophic forest fire that has raged for days in central Portugal has increased to 64. The fire continues to pose a threat despite firefighters bringing around 70 per cent of the blaze under control, disaster management officials said on Tuesday.
Since the fire started on June 17, the inferno that was particularly devastating in the forested Pedrogao Grande region, northwest of the capital Lisbon, has also injured 62 persons, many of whom were caught in the blaze as they tried to escape in their cars, reports Efe news.
Around 2,000 emergency responders, aided by firefighting aircraft, continued to tackle the forest fire in areas of the central Leiria and Coimbra regions.
The fire, which experts believe began when a bolt of lightning struck a tree, has been fanned by strong winds and high temperatures.
Portugal’s national meteorological organisation on Tuesday expected moderate winds and temperatures of around 39 degrees Celsius in both the regions.
Forensic experts were working to establish the identities of many of the deceased while criticism over the handling of the tragedy was mounting.
To this end, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Monday called for all energy to be concentrated on the efforts to extinguish the fire, rather than on speculating about what started the fire and what could have helped prevent it.
“The priority, for now, it to fight the fire and support the victims and their families,” he added.
However, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa warned the death toll could increase.