63 dead in wild­fire; many tried es­cape

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY BARRY HAT­TON AND HELENA ALVES

NODEIRINHO, POR­TU­GAL | Sur­vivors emerged Mon­day with sto­ries of leap­ing into wa­ter tanks and other dra­matic es­capes from the for­est fires scorch­ing cen­tral Por­tu­gal, and au­thor­i­ties came un­der mount­ing crit­i­cism for not do­ing more to pre­vent Por­tu­gal’s dead­li­est nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in decades.

More than 2,700 fire­fight­ers were still bat­tling Mon­day to con­tain sev­eral ma­jor wild­fires in the area north­east of Lis­bon, where one blaze that be­gan Satur­day killed 63 peo­ple, many of them as they tried to flee the flames in their cars. The 63rd death, re­ported Mon­day, was an in­jured fire­fighter, one of four fire­fight­ers hos­pi­tal­ized since Sun­day morn­ing due to se­ri­ous burns suf­fered dur­ing the first hours of fight­ing the blaze.

Wa­ter-drop­ping planes from Spain, France and Italy ar­rived as part of a Euro­pean Union co­op­er­a­tion pro­gram, but they were grounded in some places be­cause thick smoke limited vis­i­bil­ity, of­fi­cials said. That left fire­fight­ers — backed by fire en­gines and bull­doz­ers — to do the heavy work on the ground in tem­per­a­tures that ap­proached 104 de­grees Fahren­heit.

Fire­fight­ers brought some of the blazes un­der con­trol, but other wild­fires still raced through in­ac­ces­si­ble parts of the area’s steep hills, the Civil Pro­tec­tion Agency said.

Por­tu­gal is ob­serv­ing three days of na­tional mourn­ing af­ter the deaths Satur­day night around the town of Pedrogao Grande, 90 miles north of Lis­bon.

Scorch­ing weather, as well as strong winds and woods that are bone-dry af­ter weeks with lit­tle rain, fu­eled the blazes. Vil­lages dot the land­scape, much of it now scorched.

In Nodeirinho, a hill­side vil­lage of a few dozen peo­ple, 84-year-old Marta da Con­ce­icao said res­i­dents called the fire ser­vices more than 20 times for help on Satur­day.

“No­body came. They were up in the moun­tain or some­where else,” she said in an in­ter­view. “Here it was up to God and the peo­ple.”

As the flames licked at her, burn­ing her leg, she and her el­derly neigh­bors sur­vived by jump­ing into a wa­ter stor­age tank.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

More than 2,000 fire­fight­ers in Por­tu­gal bat­tled Mon­day to con­tain ma­jor wild­fires in the cen­tral re­gion of the coun­try, where one blaze killed dozens of peo­ple, as au­thor­i­ties came un­der mount­ing crit­i­cism for not do­ing more to pre­vent the con­fla­gra­tion.

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