A raging blaze has struck through central Portugal, leaving 61 people killed and dozens more injured in what officials there labelled as the “greatest wildfire tragedy of recent years.”
At least 54 people were injured in the blaze Saturday, including eight firefighters and a child. Four of the firefighters were in grave condition Sunday, according to Paulo Santos, an operations and emergencies official with the National Relief Operations Command in Lisbon.
The government has declared three days of mourning to pay tribute to victims who lost their lives.
The head of Portugal’s judiciary police said to the reporters the fire was sparked by natural causes.
“We have been able to determine that the origin of the fire was caused by dry thunderstorms.” José Maria Almeida Rodrigues said, according to the Portuguese state-run news agency Lusa.
Some victims were burned to death in their vehicles as they tried to escape, officials said.
The blaze reached the Pedrógão Grande community Saturday, forcing residents to escape. Pedrógão Grande is about 120 miles north of Lisbon.
“Many cars could not get out and people burned to death inside their cars.” Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes told CNN affiliate TVI. Firefighters were still fighting the flames Sunday.
The municipality’s Mayor, Valdemar Alves, said there were areas “completely surrounded” by the wildfire and that there were no enough firefighters to extinguish the fire.
“The violence of this fire was such that I am certain many people have died,” Alves told TVI. “I am shocked with this death toll.”
The number of victims may rise, the authorities report.
More than 700 firefighters and other emergency responders headed to put out the blaze.
European countries are assembling to help Portugal. France and Spain have sent planes to help stop the blaze, the European Commission said.
“We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones.” said Christos Stylianides of the European Commission. “The EU is fully ready to help. All will be done to assist the authorities and people of Portugal at this time of need.”