World

Raging fires in Portugal kill at least 62

PENELA, PORTUGAL Raging forest fires in Portugal have killed at least 62 people, most of whom were burnt to death in their cars, the government said yesterday, in one of the worst such disasters in recent history.

The fire broke out on Saturday in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal, before spreading fast across several fronts.

Yesterday afternoon, nearly 900 firefighters and 300 vehicles were still battling the blaze while scenes of devastation could be seen around the town.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires," said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa. Portugal has declared three days of mourning.

The flowing expanse of hills between Pedrogao Grande, Figueiro do Vinhos to the west and Castanheira de Pera to the north, which 24 hours before had glowed bright green with eucalyptus plants and pine trees, were completely gutted by the flames.

A thick layer of white smoke hovered over either side of a national motorway for a distance of about 20km, as blackened trees leaned listlessly over charred soil.

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.

Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said 57 people had burnt to death, mostly trapped in their cars engulfed by flames in the Leiria region. - AFP

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