19 June 2017 Insurance

Portugal’s deadliest fire kills 62 while fleeing the blaze

More than 1,000 firefighters are battling Portugal's deadliest forest blaze after it killed at least 62 people over the weekend, Reuters reported on June 19.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway while many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had probably abandoned their vehicles in panic, according to the news agency.

Portugal’s prime minister António Costa said that the fire around the mountainous area of Pedrógão Grande, 200 kilometres northeast of Lisbon, was the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

Water planes, including French and Spanish ones, are being deployed to stop the blaze. Dozens of fire engines drove back and forth to fight the raging blaze in areas as far as 20 kiometres north of Pedrogao Grande.

"There is still a lot of forest that can burn and the rain does not make much difference," said Rui Barreto, deputy chief firefighter at the makeshift emergency services headquarters in Pedrógão Grande.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which fanned the flames.

Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, many media and residents questioned the efficiency of the operation and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year, Reuters noted.

A public petition circulating on the Internet demanding an investigation into possible failures by the authorities has gathered about 270 signatures.

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