For­est fire kills 62; search on for more bodies

Jamaica Gleaner - - INTERNATIONAL NEWS -

ARAGING for­est fire in cen­tral Por­tu­gal killed at least 62 peo­ple as they des­per­ately tried to flee, char­ring cars and trucks as it swept over roads. The dis­as­ter – the worst tragedy Por­tu­gal has ex­pe­ri­enced in decades – shook the na­tion, with the pres­i­dent declar­ing that the coun­try’s pain “knows no end”.

Al­most 24 hours af­ter the deaths Satur­day night, fires were still churn­ing across the forested hill­sides of cen­tral Por­tu­gal. Po­lice and fire­fight­ers were search­ing charred ar­eas of the for­est and iso­lated homes, look­ing for more bodies.

“It is a time of pain but also ... a time to carry on the fight” against the flames, Pres­i­dent Marcelo Re­belo de Sousa told the na­tion in a tele­vised ad­dress yes­ter­day evening af­ter the gov­ern­ment de­clared three days of na­tional mourn­ing.

A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames tow­ered over the tops of trees in the forested Pe­dro­gao Grande area, 150 kilo­me­tres (95 miles) north­east of Lis­bon where a light­ning strike was be­lieved to have sparked the blaze Satur­day. In­ves­ti­ga­tors found a tree that was hit dur­ing a “dry thun­der­storm”, the head of the na­tional ju­di­cial po­lice said.

PRONE TO FOR­EST FIRES

Dry thun­der­storms are fre­quent when fall­ing wa­ter evap­o­rates be­fore reach­ing the ground be­cause of high tem­per­a­tures. Por­tu­gal is prone to for­est fires in the dry sum­mer months and tem­per­a­tures as high as 40ºC (104ºF) hit the area in re­cent days.

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 di­men­sions of this fire have caused a hu­man tragedy be­yond any in our me­mory,” said Prime Min­is­ter An­to­nio Costa told re­porters as he ar­rived at the scene Sun­day. “Some­thing

ex­tra­or­di­nary has taken place and we have to wait for ex­perts to prop­erly de­ter­mine its causes.”

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Con­stanca Ur­bano de Sousa said the death toll had risen to 62 by the end of Sun­day. She said the coun­try’s ju­di­cial po­lice was ex­pect­ing to com­plete the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the bodies soon in or­der to re­lease them as early as pos­si­ble.

In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cial Jorge Gomes said fire­fight­ing crews were hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties bat­tling the fire, which was “very in­tense” in at least two of its four fronts. He said author­i­ties were wor­ried about strong winds that could help spread the blaze fur­ther.

AP PHOTOS

Por­tuguese fire­fight­ers work to stop a for­est fire from reach­ing the vil­lage of Figueiro dos Vin­hos cen­tral Por­tu­gal, yes­ter­day. Por­tu­gal’s pres­i­dent says the coun­try’s pain “knows no end” as it mourns at least 61 peo­ple killed in the dead­li­est wild­fire in me­mory

Burnt cars block the road be­tween Cas­tan­heira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vin­hos, cen­tral Por­tu­gal, yes­ter­day. Rag­ing for­est fires in cen­tral Por­tu­gal killed at least 50 peo­ple, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Satur­day evening.

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