Central Portugal forest fires: 61 Dead, PM Calls Disaster a 'Tragedy'

National of Art									SOURCE National of Art

National of Art SOURCE National of Art

More than 2,000 firefighters in Portugal battled Monday to contain major wildfires in the central region of the country, where one blaze killed 62 people, while authorities came under mounting criticism for not doing more to prevent the tragedy.

Portugal has declared a day of national mourning for the dozens of people who have died in forest fires.

"The dimension of this fire was such that we don't have memory of such a human tragedy", Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in Pedrogao Grande, a mountainous region about 200km northeast of Lisbon on Sunday.

Reporting for euronews, Filipa Soares said that no doubt the road on which many people lost their loves, their cars engulfed in the flames, will from now on be referred to as the "road of death".

The Associated Press reported that most of the fatalities occurred in vehicles as people were trying to flee the fire.

Ideally, he said, there should be firebreaks such as cleared woodland or farmland that help to stop a blaze in its tracks. All available means of assistance have been mobilized towards Leiria, including four fire fighting aircraft sent from Spain.

Televised images showed a huge wall of bright red flames leaping over the top of trees in the wooded region.

Burnt-out cars sat outside partly destroyed and abandoned houses, while a few metres away police in face masks surrounded the corpse of a man covered by a white sheet.

"Everything burnt very quickly given the strong winds".

Several houses were destroyed by the flames.

"I knew several of the victims. (It was) just flames over the auto and the family and me screaming", said the 56-year-old from Norwich, England.

The Judicial Police told Efe that the police had ruled out arson and pointed to lightning striking a tree as the most likely cause of the deadly fire.

Authorities had previously lowered the number of victims, saying that one body had been counted for twice, but the minister later confirmed that the official toll returned to 62. Some villages were evacuated as the fire remains active, he said.

Luisilda Malheiro and her husband Eduardo Abreu, a couple of farmers, both 62, escaped the hellish route N-236.

Other 54 people were injured, including four firefighters and a seriously injured minor, Gomes told state broadcaster RTP.

"The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger", said Costa. Temperatures as high as 40 degrees Celsius in recent days might have also played a part in the inferno. Smoke has hampered airborne efforts, Gomes said.

Officials were not immediately able to comment on the extent of the damage.

Some local residents said they had been left without firefighters for hours as their homes burned.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited the site at night and expressed his condolences.

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