Death toll from forest fire rises, search and probe underway

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-19 12:29:38|Editor: Liu

Rescuers work at the site of forest fire in the area of Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal on June 18, 2017. The number of people killed in the forest fire raging in central Portugal has risen to 62, with 54 others injured, State Secretary of Internal Affairs Ministry Jorge Gomes said Sunday. The fire broke out Saturday in Pedrogao Grande, northeast of Lisbon, and quickly spread to the towns of Figueird dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera in the district of Leiria, where firefighters are still battling the fire. (Xinhua/Zhang Liyun)

LISBON, June 18 (Xinhua) -- The death toll from the forest fires raging in central Portugal rose to 62 on Sunday, with 54 others injured, and search for more bodies and investigation into the cause of the disaster were still under way.

Portuguese State Secretary of Internal Affairs Ministry Jorge Gomes told reporters about the death toll rise on Sunday, adding that two deaths were caused by a road accident, while four of the injured were in serious condition.

The fires broke out Saturday in Pedrogao Grande, some 150 km northeast of Lisbon, and quickly spread to the towns of Figueird dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera in the district of Leiria.

Portuguese Lusa News Agency reported earlier Sunday that the number of people killed in the forest fires were 57, with 59 others injured.

Among the victims, 18 died in their cars and 11 died in the forest when the fires swept over a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos, the news agency quoted Gomes as saying.

The Portuguese government has declared a state of emergency in the fire area, and also a three-day national mourning from Sunday and Tuesday.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa toured the disaster area to oversee the rescue operation on Saturday night and comforted the injured.8 Firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching Pedrogao Grande because the fires were "very intense," said Prime Minister Antonio Costa, calling the disaster the worst catastrophic incident that has occurred in Portugal in recent years.

The European Union has responded to a call for assistance to Portugal. Rescuers from Spain came to help control the blazes with two water-bombing planes dispatched on Sunday morning.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday expressed his condolences to the Portuguese government and people.

The huge fires had been caused by dry lightning, Almeida Rodrigues, director of the Portuguese criminal investigation police (PJ), told reporters.

"The PJ has managed to determine the origin of the fires and everything clearly points towards natural causes. We have even managed to find the tree that was struck by the lightning," Rodrigues said.

A dry thunderstorm is a storm with thunder and lightning, with most or all the rain evaporating before reaching the ground.

On Sunday night, fires reportedly were still charring the forest in central Portugal. Police and rescuers were searching the fire-struck areas for more bodies.

Portuguese Interior Minister Urbano de Sousa said that Portugal's judicial police was expected to finish the identification of the bodies soon and would release the list of them as early as possible.

Hundreds of soldiers on Sunday joined some 700 firefighters who were striving to quench the blaze.

Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in recent days in Portugal, making it prone to forest fires in the summer.

KEY WORDS: forest fires