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”.
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.”
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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.