t least 61 people have died in a wildfire still raging in central Portugal, most of them trapped in their cars by flames as treacherous wind drove the blaze beyond firefighters’ control.
The government has declared Sunday through Tuesday national days of mourning for the victims of a fire “which has caused an irreparable loss of human life.”
With the death toll set to rise and the blaze still raging in the wooded mountain area of Pedrogão Grande, south of Coimbra, the Portuguese government announced late on Saturday night that the confirmed victims were all members of the public. There are fears for two firefighters who are missing while four of their colleagues are described as being in a serious condition in hospital.
Several hundred firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched to fight the fire.
Jorge Gomes, secretary of state for the interior, said that 16 of the casualties had been killed when their cars were engulfed by flames as they drove along a local road. The other three deaths were from smoke inhalation, the official said, adding that 21 people were being treated for injuries.
The fire, the cause of which remains unknown, started at around 2pm on Saturday. Some roads were closed as the wildfire spread out of control, destroying several fire engines. At midnight, more than 500 firefighters continued to battle the blaze.