According to officials, most of the victims died in their cars along a single road as they attempted to escape.
“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions”, Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande, told the AP.
Gomes told reporters that among the dead, two of them are victims of a road accident, while four of the injured are in serious condition.
“The fire has reached a level of human tragedy that we have never seen before”, said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who announced three days of mourning starting on Sunday. Temperatures exceeded 40 degrees Celcius in several regions in the wake of a severe heatwave. “I am shocked with this death toll”. The prime minister said the death toll could rise as firefighters inspected charred remains of some buildings in remote villages.
Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said 18 of those burned to death had been trapped in their cars engulfed by flames on the road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.
About 60 forest fires broke out across the country during the night, with around 1,700 firefighters battling to put them out.
The EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides expressed his condolences for the victims in a statement, saying the “EU is fully ready to help”.
On Friday, Portugal’s National Authority for Public Safety issued wildfire alerts due to high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds.
Portugal’s prime minister has thanked the hundreds of firefighters combating forest fires that have killed at least 57 people.
“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.
On Sunday, Pope Francis led thousands of people in silent prayer for the victims of what he called the “devastating fire”, while the Portuguese football team offered its “deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the fires”. “The Portuguese people have our solidarity, support and affection”, Spain President Mariano Rajoy Brey wrote on Twitter.