Portugal's worst wildfire in decades kills at least 57

Posted June 20, 2017

Fire experts are pointing to a series of shortcomings in Portugal's strategy of dealing with wildfires, two days after a forest blaze killed 62 people in central Portugal.

Once the flames have been extinguished, however, there will no doubt be an investigation into why so many victims apparently died after finding themselves cut off, encircled by fire and stranded along roads they took while trying to flee by auto.

She pointed out that a government forest fire prevention report 10 years ago was deemed to be too ambitious and many of its recommendations ignored.

In one village of Nodeirinho, where 11 residents died, state television RTP showed burned out cars and blackened houses.

Fanned by violent winds, flames spread rapidly across the pine and Eucalyptus tree-covered hills between the villages of Pedrogao Grande, Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa flew overnight to the scene and spoke on arrival of an "unprecedented situation". Strong winds also added to the unsafe conditions.

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed tens of people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over roads Saturday evening.

At least 47 people got trapped in their cars after the flames engulfed a stretch of road near Pedrógão Grande, located approximately 120 miles northeast of the nation's capital, Lisbon.

More than 350 soldiers have joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the flames since Saturday.

Water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy arrived as part of a European Union cooperation program but they were grounded in some places because thick smoke limited visibility, officials said. Police and firefighters were searching charred areas of the forest and isolated homes, looking for more bodies. Four firefighters remain in critical condition. "I am completely stunned by the number of deaths".

Gomes said at least 30 victims, including entire families, were found dead in their vehicles on two roads in the Leiria district that were blocked by the flames' advance, trapping motorists in the inferno.

"I am shocked and horrified by the many lives claimed by today's devastating fires", said UN Secretary General António Guterres on Sunday.

"It's the biggest tragedy in recent years", said Portugal's Prime Minister António Costa.

Image Below: A woman is attended by Red Cross workers outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017.

The government has declared Sunday through Tuesday national days of mourning for the victims of a fire "which has caused an irreparable loss of human life", with casualties expected to rise.

Some 500 firefighters were dispatched to the site of the blaze.

Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.