Greece offers Portugal help with forest fire

Elias Hubbard
June 19, 2017

At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal.

As Alison Roberts reports from Lisbon for our Newscast unit, officials believe a lightning strike is likely to blame for the Pedrogão Grande fire, and they have ruled out a criminal cause.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa described the fire as the "the biggest tragedy" the country has experienced in years. Most of the dozens of victims were caught in their cars in the area after the blaze broke out Saturday afternoon local time.

A period of national mourning will be announced shortly, Mr Costa said.

Around 600 firefighters are battling the flames raging in the Pedrogao Grande area, which is about 93 miles northeast of the capital Lisbon.

The number of deaths is expected to rise and according to CNN, 54 people have been injured including eight firefighters.

The fires began on Saturday during an intense heatwave and rainless thunderstorms, with temperatures of more than 40C (104F) in some areas.

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said that 60 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke, while another two people perished in a traffic accident related to the fires. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tells the New York Times that firefighters are facing a flawless storm of "temperature, wind, and zero humidity".

"This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions", Valdemar Alves, the mayor of Pedrógão Grande, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press agency.

Juncker wrote in the letter that "Our thoughts are with all the victims, their families and all the courageous soldiers of peace that in a very hard terrain and under challenging circumstances continue to fight this bad fire".

Authorities said the the conditions may have played a part. Two planes were also dumping water on the blaze. 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". France was also sending three aircraft. The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, said "Greece will offer any help necessary to fight the fires".

One resident of Pedrogao Grande told broadcaster RTP she had "not seen a single fireman" as the flames approached her house during the night.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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