43 killed in Portugal forest fires

Pauline Gross
June 18, 2017

Portugal has experienced high temperatures that have reached 40C in recent days, and is prone to forest fires over summer.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker sent a letter to Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, expressing "profound sadness" for the fire in Pedrogao Grande and offering "most felt solidarity".

The blaze on Saturday hit the mountainous area of Pedrogao Grande, 200km northheast of Lisbon, amid an intense heat wave and rainless thunderstorms.

More than 50 people were injured, five critically, including one child and four firefighters. Four of the firefighters are in critical condition Sunday, according to Paulo Santos, an operations and emergencies official with the National Relief Operations Command in Lisbon. 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". It released a statement announcing a minute of silence to be held before Portugal's first match of the Confederations Cup against Mexico on Sunday - and said it will make a donation to help the victims and their families.

Portugal's civil protection agency, which co-ordinates firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the increased risk for forest fires in Friday. France was also sending three aircraft and Greece's prime minister also offered to send firefighting help.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires past year which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometres) of the mainland.

One of the youngsters killed was named locally as four-year-old Rodrigo Rosario, killed with his uncle Sidel Belchior, after their vehicle was engulfed by flames on a country road near the historic university city of Coimbra.

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French President Emmanuel Macron said in a Twitter message: "Solidarity with Portugal, hit by awful fires".

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he is "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. The Portuguese people can count on our solidarity, support and care".

A local resident who fled from a forest fire in central Portugal has blamed the lack of rain for helping produce the blaze that has killed 43 people and injured scores more. Local resident Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press that she had feared for her life. I never thought it would come to this side.

Three people were killed and over 1,000 evacuated in the Portuguese island of Madeira due to the fierce wildfires a year ago. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".

Police said lightning striking a tree probably caused the blaze.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes has been quoted as giving the new figure on public broadcaster RTP.

Other reports by GizPress

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