Published: Wed, June 21, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

At least 58 killed in devastating forest fire in Portugal

At least 58 killed in devastating forest fire in Portugal

"It is a time of pain but also. a time to carry on the fight" against the flames, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told the nation in a televised address on Sunday evening.

"It is hard to say if they were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise", he said. The European Union has also offered help and Greece said it could send firefighters if needed. To date, 18 people have been taken to hospitals in Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra, five of them - four firefighters and a child - seriously injured.

The prime minister said the emergency services acted as fast as they could but acknowledged that some of the efforts like alerting the population might have been hindered because the blaze had ruined phone lines and communications towers. "The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger".

Over the weekend, Portugal sweltered under temperatures topping 40º Celsius in several regions.

He added that firefighting crews are having difficulties battling the flames, which are "very violent" in at least two of the four fronts.

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The wildfire has had a dramatic effect on operations within central Portugal. In it, falling rain evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures, but lightning from the high cumulonimbus clouds reaches the ground. Some were sheltered in neighbouring areas.

Officials were not immediately able to comment on the extent of the damage.

Spain dispatched two water-bombing planes on Sunday to aid the Portuguese fire service, Costa said.

About 35 forest fires continued to burn across the country on Monday, with more than 2,000 firefighters and 660 vehicles mobilised. Dozens of people who fled their homes have been taken in by residents of nearby municipalities.

Various local residents said they had been left to their own devices and had seen no firefighters for hours while their homes burned. Just over 1,000 firefighters are still tackling that blaze about 90 miles (150km) north of Lisbon.

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Pope Francis began his Angelus prayer by invoking the tragedy.

"We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones", he said.

According to the latest (morning of 19 June) data of the Portuguese Civil Protection, more than 800 personnel (firemen, INEM, civil protection, Red Cross and Armed Forces) are now combating the fires in the affected areas in the district of Leiria assisted by 350 vehicles and ten aircrafts.

"Those are places I've visited in the past, and to see the images of the roads covered by fire with all those cars, it's really awful", said Silva, who has lived in Toronto for the past 14 years. Last August, an outbreak of fires across Portugal killed four people, including three on the island of Madeira, and destroyed huge areas of forest.

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