An out-of-control forest fire in central Portugal has killed at least 58 people and injured 54, according to updated figures provided on Sunday by the Portuguese government. The Portuguese government has established a national period of mourning from Sunday to Tuesday in honor of the victims of the fire, which continues to burn as 1,600 firefighters along with police and military personnel work to stop it.
A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the initial blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area after investigators found a tree that was hit during a "dry thunderstorm". Dry thunderstorms occur in high temperatures when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground.
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"This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions", said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande.
Secretary of State for Internal Administration Joao Gomes reported that the number of deaths had risen as a result of the devastating wildfires that erupted on Saturday in the vicinity of Pedrogao Grande, a small rural town near the city of Coimbra, reports Efe news.
Portuguese Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 60 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke.
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At least 59 people were injured in the blaze Saturday, including four firefighters and a child.
A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames could at one point be seen towering over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region.
Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press on Sunday that she had feared for her life when she saw the Pedrogao Grande blaze.
Even past year, the country was hit by a series of fires which destroyed more than 100,000 hectares of the mainland, the report added further. "At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again".
Local television showed terrifying images of several people on a road trying to escape the intense smoke that had reduced visibility to just a few metres. A young man shared a bottle of water with a distraught woman as she stumbled down the road.
Police investigators stand by a burnt auto on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, June 18 2017.
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Thirty bodies were found inside cars and nearly 20 more were found next to vehicles, Portuguese officials said.
He added that firefighting crews are having difficulties battling the flames, which are "very violent" in at least two of the four fronts.
The European Union has activated its civil protection efforts to help Portugal fight forest fires that have killed at least 43 people.
"We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones", said Christos Stylianides of the European Commission. France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.
Some victims got stuck in their cars and on the side of the road in what officials described as the "greatest wildfire tragedy of recent years".
In a tweet on Sunday, Mr Costa sent his "deepest regret for the victims. and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge".
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The European Commission says it is working with EU member states to respond to the call for assistance issued overnight by Portuguese authorities in order to fight the forest fire in central Portugal that has claimed 57 lives so far.
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