A forest fire in central Portugal killed at least 19 people Saturday, majority occupants of various vehicles that were on the road and caught in the blaze, an official said in televised remarks. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised to provide any support necessary.
A Firefighter battles with a fire in Pampilhosa da Serra, central of Portugal.
At least 47 people got trapped in their cars after the flames engulfed a stretch of road near Pedrógão Grande, located approximately 120 miles northeast of the nation’s capital, Lisbon.
Abandoned and burnt-out cars can be seen strewn along roadsides as raging infernos destroyed everything in their wake in the Pedrógão Grande region.
Fernando Lopes, head of the town hall in Castanheira de Pera near the central Portuguese city of Leiria close to where many people were killed after being trapped in their cars on a rural road, said: “This is a catastrophic situation”.
“It is hard to say if they were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise”, he said.
“The fire is still raging on four fronts“, said Gomes. “The number of fatalities could still rise”, Costa said.
“My heart goes out to those people who have lost loved ones in the most bad and unjust fashion”. Rescuers from Spain came to help control the blazes with two water-bombing planes dispatched on Sunday morning.
Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in recent days in Portugal, making it prone to forest fires in the summer.
European countries are coming together to assist Portugal. According to an initial analysis by the Judicial Police, the fire was caused by a dry thunderstorm, Gomes said.
Approximately 1600 firefighters are still fighting the five main fires. Some were sheltered in neighbouring areas. Officials were not immediately able to comment on the extent of the damage. Local reports said a third of the population had lost their lives, many as they tried to escape the fire.
At a retirement home in Pedrogao Grande on Monday, about 150 people who had been evacuated or fled were waiting to learn when they could go home.
Some local residents said they had been left without firefighters for hours as their homes burned.
Portugal’s President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, offered a word of comfort to those still battling the fires and said that “all that could be done was done”.
Authorities say that altogether 135 people were treated as a result of the blaze, including 13 firefighters and one soldier.
Pope Francis began his Angelus prayer by invoking the tragedy. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte) Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017.
“We found the tree hit by the lightning”, he said.
Portugal was hit by a series of fires past year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometres) of the mainland.