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June 20, 2017

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Portugal in mourning as firefighters battle blaze

MORE than 1,000 firefighters yesterday continued to battle a giant forest fire that swept through central Portugal at the weekend, killing at least 62 people.

The country was in mourning after the deadliest such disaster in its recent history, with many victims burnt as they were trapped in their cars around the epicenter in Pedrogao Grande.

“Portugal weeps for Pedrogao Grande,” said the I newspaper while mainstream Publico’s headline simply read “Why?”

“The fire has reached a level of human tragedy that we have never seen before,” said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who announced three days of mourning from Sunday.

Portugal’s national Route 236 was transformed into a road of hell as the ferocious blaze ripped through the wooded countryside.

Although the searing temperatures had dropped slightly yesterday, the fire was still raging, spreading to neighboring regions of Castelo Branco and Coimbra.

Firefighters were also continuing a grim search for bodies, with Costa warning on Sunday that the death toll could still rise.

The international community has stepped in to help, with Spain, France and Italy sending water-bombing planes. The European Union has also offered help and Greece said it could send firefighters if needed.

“I am shocked and horrified by the many lives claimed by today’s devastating fires,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who comes from Portugal. “The United Nations stands ready to assist in any way possible.”

“Our pain is immense,” said Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. “We feel a sense of injustice because the tragedy has hit those Portuguese of whom one speaks little — those living in an isolated rural zone.”

Police chief Almeida Rodrigues blamed dry thunderstorms for the blaze which broke out on Saturday in Pedrogao Grande, ruling out arson. “We found the tree hit by the lightning,” he said.

Local Isabel Ferreira, 62 said: “Everything burnt very quickly.”


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