World

UN Chief Saddened by Lives Claimed by Wildfires in Portugal

UN Chief Saddened by Lives Claimed by Wildfires in Portugal

The fire, which began on Saturday afternoon, ignited in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in Leiria, a huge plain with small villages crisscrossed by several national roads.

Between 1993 and 2013, Portugal recorded more forest fires than Spain, France, Italy or Greece, according to a report a year ago by the European Environment Agency, even though it is smaller than any of those countries.

Many residents remain unaccounted for.

However, giant clouds of smoke were preventing the deployment of water-dropping aircraft on wildfires in the central region of the country where 62 people have died in the runaway flames, officials said.

"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 Sunday evening after the government declared three days of national mourning.

"Two Britons were admitted to hospital but have since been discharged", the Embassy said, adding it is keeping in "close contact with central and local authorities and also hospitals" as the fallout from the fire unfolds.

Many people have burned to death in their cars and on the road after becoming trapped by the flames on the road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

It was the country's deadliest such disaster in its recent history, with many victims burnt as they were trapped in their cars around the epicentre in Pedrogao Grande.

More than 350 soldiers yesterday joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the blaze.




Image: Aerial view of a forest fire is seen from the cabin of a Spanish fire fighting plane near Pedrogao Grande, Portugal, June 18, 2017.

Firefighters said the weather conditions were still adverse in most areas where the flames were raging.

Thirty bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8 motorway.

Silva's comments echo those of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who told reporters at the scene the fires have caused "a human tragedy beyond any in our memory". He said that "it was not possible to do more than what has been done" in prevention and responding to the fire. "I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

Some 500 firefighters were dispatched to the site of the blaze.

The FCO's travel advice now recommends Britons "avoid travelling to the areas affected by forest fires until the authorities confirm that it is safe to do so".

Premier Costa, who had been monitoring developments overnight from the civil defence headquarters in Carnaxide on the western outskirts of Lisbon, has expressed his shock at the scale of the tragedy.

Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.


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