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Portugal's Forest Fires Leave Dozens Dead As Wildfires Sweep Through Country

There will be three days of national mourning for the victims.

18/06/2017 16:52 BST | Updated 18/06/2017 16:54 BST

At least 62 people have died as raging forest fires have been sweeping through Portugal since Saturday in what the country’s prime minister has called “the biggest tragedy” to hit the country in years.

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for victims of the blaze, which is believed to have started following a lightning strike in the Pedrogao Grande.

The government said in a statement that the fires “caused an irreparable loss of human life”.

Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Firefighters work to put out a forest fire near Bouca, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017.

Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande, the Associated Press reports. “I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.”

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.

Another 54 people were injured, including four firefighters and a seriously injured minor, Gomes told state broadcaster RTP.

Authorities had previously said that 40 C heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno about 150km northeast of Lisbon.

More than 350 soldiers were joining Sunday the 700 firefighters who were struggling to put out the blaze since Saturday, the government said.

Rafael Marchante / Reuters
A forest fire is seen near Tojeira, Pedrogao Grande.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Authorities said that 40 C heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Dozens of people have been killed by the blaze.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
A firefighter tries to extinguish fire during a forest fire near the village of Torgal.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Firefighters work to put out a forest fire near Bouca in central Portugal.
Reuters Staff / Reuters
Smoke rises from a forest fire, seen from the village of Mourisco.
Reuters Staff / Reuters
Smoke from a forest fire is seen from the village of Dornes, in central Portugal.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
A burned truck is seen during a forest fire near Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
An ambulance drives past a burned car during a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Smoke is seen on the IC8 motorway during a forest fire near Pedrogao Grande.
Rafael Marchante / Reuters
Firefighters rest during a forest fire near the village of Torgal, Portugal.