The Latest: Death toll from wildfire in Portugal rises to 63

AP News
Posted: Jun 19, 2017 1:03 PM
The Latest: Death toll from wildfire in Portugal rises to 63

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — The Latest on wildfires in Portugal (all times local):

6 p.m.

The death toll for the massive fire in central Portugal climbed to 63 on Monday after an injured firefighter died in hospital, the league of Portuguese firefighters said in their website.

The victim was one of four firefighters hospitalized at the Coimbra University Hospital since Sunday morning due to serious burns suffered during the first hours of the fight against the flames. A further two people were being treated for major injuries.

Portugal's Interior minister said that 25 of the victims had been identified by Monday afternoon and that authorities were moving fast to complete all identifications.

Authorities say that altogether 135 people were treated as a result of the blaze, including 13 firefighters and one soldier.

The country's Civil Protection department said that the battle against the flames is still very difficult in the Pedrogao Grande, where 1,100 soldiers and firefighters are working with hundreds of vehicles and dozens of aircraft. However, there are favorable signs in other areas of central Portugal also hit by wildfires, authorities said.


3 p.m.

A British man has told of his dramatic escape from a wildfire that killed 62 people in central Portugal.

Like more than half of the dead in Saturday's blaze, Daniel Starling jumped in his car and raced away as the flames bore down. He came across a family of four elderly people and stopped to pick them up.

The 56-year-old from Norwich, England, says "we stopped at one point, because we did not know where to go, because there were flames everywhere. But I just carried on the only way that I knew. (It was) just flames over the car and the family and me screaming."

Starling told The Associated Press on Monday that he had to speed around trees that had fallen on the road and had to go off the road. He finally came across a policeman at a junction, where he stopped. He says "the family got out and they were kissing the car."

He says, however, the house that he has been building since 2009 in the region is now burned out.


2:45 p.m.

A French person is among the more than 60 people killed in wildfires sweeping through central Portugal.

The French Foreign Ministry announced the death Monday, and said the French government is mobilized to help the victim's family and to help Portugal. The ministry would not release the person's name out of respect for the family.

France sent three water-dropping planes Sunday to help fight the fires in Portugal's Leiria region, as part of European Union joint civil security operations.

More than 2,000 firefighters were battling Monday to contain the fires after one of Portugal's deadliest tragedies in decades.


2:30 p.m.

Fire experts are pointing to a series of shortcomings in Portugal's strategy of dealing with wildfires, two days after a forest blaze killed 62 people in central Portugal.

There is a broad consensus that more work is needed on prevention, starting with forest cleaning and the creation of fire breaks.

But Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal's Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University, notes that around 90 percent of landowners have smallholdings, making it difficult for authorities to oversee them all. Xavier Viegas, a wildfire expert at Portugal's Coimbra University, says Portugal needs a longer-term strategy.

Both experts say local people need instructions on how to react when a wildfire is approaching so they don't act rashly.

Officials say 47 people died Saturday night on a road as they fled the flames.


10:30 a.m.

Portuguese officials say giant clouds of smoke are preventing the deployment of water-dropping aircraft on wildfires in the central region of the country where 62 people have died in the runaway flames.

Civil Protection Agency commander Elisio Oliveira has told reporters that cooler night-time temperatures helped firefighters bring some blazes under control.

However, some of the wildfires are still racing through inaccessible parts of hill ranges about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Lisbon. That is where the aircraft are needed.

Temperatures are forecast to reach close to 40 C (104 F) there later Monday.

More than 1,000 firefighters are tackling the wildfires around the town of Pedrogao Grande, where 62 people died Saturday night.


10:20 a.m.

The death of 62 people in Portuguese wildfires has brought growing criticism of authorities for not doing more to prevent the tragedy.

Portugal's leading environmental lobby group, Quercus, has issued a statement blaming the weekend blazes on "forest management errors and bad political decisions" by governments over recent decades.

The association is rebuking authorities for allowing the planting of huge swathes of eucalyptus, the country's most common and most profitable species — but one that's often blamed for stoking blazes. It also says official bodies don't do enough to coordinate wildfire prevention.

Emergency services have also been criticized for not closing a road where 47 of the deaths occurred as people fled the flames. The government has acknowledged that the huge fires occasionally led to a breakdown in communications.


7:45 a.m.

More than 1,500 firefighters in Portugal are still battling to control major wildfires in the central region of the country, where one blaze killed 62 people.

Reinforcements are due to arrive Monday, including more water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy as part of a European Union cooperation program.

Portugal is observing three days of national mourning after 62 people were killed in a wildfire Saturday night around the town of Pedrogao Grande, which is by far the deadliest on record. Just over 1,000 firefighters are still attending that blaze about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Lisbon.

Scorching weather, with temperatures surpassing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), as well as strong winds and dry woodland after weeks with little rain are fueling the blazes.