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19 June 2017, 01:02 | Kara Nash
Portugal's worst wildfire in decades kills at least 57
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said Sunday that more deaths could be confirmed as efforts to recover bodies continue, and that "the dimension of this fire has caused a human tragedy beyond any in our memory".
The Portuguese Government has revealed that the death toll in the Pedrógão Grande blaze in Leiria has risen to 62. However, he added "there's no point in feeling joyful for that, because surely we will find more victims as we progress".
More than 350 soldiers have joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the flames since Saturday.
Costa said that while investigations are ongoing to determine the cause of the fire, authorities believe that the high temperatures of 104 F in recent days may have played a part.
In 1966, a blaze in the forest of Sintra, west of Lisbon killed 25 soldiers trying to battle the flames. Local resident Isabel Brandao said she had feared for her life.
"The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently. but we're doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire", Gomes said, adding that no villages were now at risk. "At 3.30am, my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again.
It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that", the mayor of Pedrogao Grande Valdemar Alves told reporters. A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road.
The fire broke out on Saturday in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal, before spreading fast across several fronts. He said authorities were anxious about strong winds that could help spread the blaze further.
Schools in the area were closed until further notice and outdoor fires were banned, authorities announced Sunday.
Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes has been quoted as giving the new figure on public broadcaster RTP.
He said 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.
Four firefighters and a child are among 54 people who have been injured.
"We are most likely facing the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known", he said. Victims are still being identified. Portugal established a special diplomatic channel for embassies to receive information on foreign citizens who "may be affected".
As a result, a Spanish firefighting aircraft was already assisting on Sunday morning and another one was expected to arrive later in the day. France is sending three planes, while Spain has sent several firefighting aircraft.
In Rome, Pope Francis led thousands of people in a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the fire. "Deepest condolences to the Portugese people on this tragedy", Prime Minister Modi tweeted.
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