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Greatest Wildfire in Portugal kills 62

19 June 2017

Portugal is prone to forest fires during the dry summer months.

Some victims were discovered in homes in isolated regions.

The mayor of Pedrogao Grande, Valdemar Alves, said that some villages had been "completely surrounded by flames" as quoted in the Publico newspaper. In total, The New York Times reports about 1,600 firefighters are at work attempting to quell wildfires across the country. The rest of the bodies were found outside of the cars or in the forest, the official said.

A raging forest fire ripping through central Portugal crossed a road on Sunday, trapping dozens of people in their cars and killing at least 30 of them.

The government has declared three days of mourning to pay tribute to victims who lost their lives.

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Portuguese radio station TSF, citing the Interior Ministry, said 25 people had been killed in blazes in the Pedrogao Grande area about 150 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.

The head of Portugal's judiciary police said to the reporters the fire was sparked by natural causes. Dry thunderstorms occur in high temperatures when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground.

Eight firefighters are among the more than 50 people injured in the fire, which is raging in several parts of a mountainous area some 200km north-east of the capital Lisbon.

At least four other significant wildfires were burning Sunday elsewhere in Portugal but the one in Pedrogao Grande was responsible for all the deaths.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires", a visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

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The number of dead, which includes at least four children, is expected to rise, El Hammar said.

"It is hard to say if they were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise", he said.

He added that firefighters hoped to "shortly" extinguish two of the four separate fronts on which the blaze remained active. There are concerns strong winds could help spread the blaze further.

Portugal's civil protection agency, which coordinates firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the increased risk for forest fires in Friday. In August of a year ago, the island of Madeira was devastated by a fire that killed three people and more than a thousand had to be evacuated from their homes.

Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press on Sunday that she had feared for her life when she saw the Pedrogao Grande blaze.

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We have had large-scale fires before over the past couple of decades - this year is not unusual in that respect - but it is certainly unusual to have so many fatalities in one place. "We were only able to save two goats", she said. "It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that".