Raging Portugal forest fires claim 39 lives

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Source:

Associated Press

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 39 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what Prime Minister Antonio Costa today called "the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years".

Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise.

Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise.

Source: Associated Press

The death toll initially stood at 25 in the early morning and the updated figure was given by public broadcaster RTP, citing Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes.

The fatalities occurred in the Pedrogao Grande area, about 150 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, where about 600 firefighters have been trying to put out the fires since yesterday, Gomes said.

Gomes said that at least 16 people were killed when their vehicles were engulfed by flames on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.

RTP said there are at least another 20 people injured, including six firefighters. Fourteen of the injured were in serious condition, RTP said.

Spanish state television showed terrifying images from Portugal of several people on a road trying to escape the intense smoke that had reduced visibility to a question of a few metres.

Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was "very intense".

He added that Portuguese authorities were working on identifying the victims and that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.

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