Portugal forest fire: What we know


Lisbon (AFP)

The huge forest fire that erupted Saturday in central Portugal killed at least 64 people and injured 135 more, with many trapped in their cars by the flames.

Here is what we know about the disaster:

- Evacuations, victims -

The fire broke out Saturday just before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in the region of Leiria.

Authorities said the blaze was about 70 percent under control by Monday evening. But the work of the firefighters was being made very difficult by the hot, dry and windy conditions that had contributed to the fire's spread.

The flames have advanced rapidly across the pine and eucalyptus tree-covered hills between the villages of Pedrogao Grande, Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

Several villages here hit and people were evacuated. Some victims were discovered in homes in isolated regions.

But many victims died on the road, trapped in their cars by the blaze.

By Monday evening the death toll stood at 64 with 135 injured, including 13 firefighters and 121 civilians and a police officer.

Authorities say other victims could be found as searches continue.

- Firefighting forces -

About 1,000 firefighters and close to 400 vehicles were employed to battle the fire.

Spain dispatched four water-bombing aircraft Sunday morning, and three firefighting planes arrived from France in the afternoon.

Two more Spanish airplanes and two Italian aircraft will also be deployed, according to the European Commission.

- How the fire started -

Police chief Almeida Rodrigues blamed dry thunderstorms for the blaze, ruling out arson, and saying a tree had been struck by lightning.

"We found a tree hit by lightning," he said.

According to the Secretary of State for the Interior, the flames spread furiously in several directions, reaching a number of villages.

The fire was still not contained by Sunday evening, with one of the four fronts remaining a threat.

Close to 100 forest fires continued to rage across Portugal Sunday night, with over 2,000 firefighters working to bring them under control.

- National mourning -

The government has declared three days of national mourning, which started Sunday.

"The fire has reached a level of human tragedy that we have never known before," said a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet victims' families, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people".

Schools in the region were closed indefinitely, and exams postponed.