More than 60 persons have died as fast-spreading wildfires burn through central Portugal, with many of the charred victims meeting their death on the roads or in their homes.
Dozens of people, including a total of 4 firefighters were reportedly injured as authorities battle to save lives and property.
Most of the dead victims were car occupants.
The fire was described by government as one of the worst such unbearable losses in the world’s history. Prime Minister Antonio Costa has described this heartbreaking incident as the biggest tragedy of human life that the country has known in years.
“…Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” the visibly depressed minister said in a statement.
“The number of fatalities could still rise,” Costa added. The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger.”
Media reports confirm that a lot of people died in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 95 miles northeast of the capital city Lisbon, where over 900 firefighters have put their lives at risk since Saturday. The fire is yet to be contained.
As of Sunday afternoon, over 300 cars were still blazing from the wildfire.
On a request from Lisbon, the European Union (EU) said it would provide firefighting airplanes to help reduce casualties.
Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said: “France has offered three planes through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and they will be quickly sent to assist the local emergency efforts.”
Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said in an earlier statement that 57 people burned to death, highlighting that most of them were trapped in their cars as slames engulfed a road located in the Leiria region. 18 persons died in car fires while 3 died from inhaled smoke.
Jorge Gomez, an Interior Ministry official, also reported that at least 16 people lost their lives on a road which links the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, adding that more three died after inhaling smoke in Figueiro dos Vinhos.
In the early morning hours of today, speculations were rife that the fire started after a tree was struck by lightning which caused it to burst into flames.
No official report has been given on the forest fire.
The Portuguese authorities are compiling a list of names of the deceased persons, most of whom are yet to be identified.
According to Mr Costa, the intense fire and flames towered above the trees in those affected wooded regions, making it inaccessible due to reduced visibility.
While investigations on the soul-chilling incidents continue, Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande, said: “This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions.
“I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”
“It is difficult to say if they were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise,” Gomez said.
The European Union has provided support relief by activating its civil protection efforts to help fight the fires.
EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the ‘EU is fully ready to help,’ stressing that countries such as Spain and France have assumed similar roles, too.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took to social media with a post which reads: ‘[I am] overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. The Portuguese people can count on our solidarity, support and care.’
Image shows firefighters resting during a wildfire at Penela, Coimbra.
A number of villages have been evacuated while firefighters continue with their job.
Mr Gomez added: “The fire is still raging on four fronts [with] two spreading ‘violently.’