Leaping into water tanks to escape Portugal’s deadly fires

NODEIRINHO, Portugal (AP) — Survivors emerged Monday with stories of leaping into water tanks and other dramatic escapes from the forest fires scorching central Portugal, and authorities came under mounting criticism for not doing more to prevent Portugal’s deadliest natural disaster in decades.

More than 2,700 firefighters were still battling Monday to contain several major wildfires in the area northeast of Lisbon, where one blaze that began Saturday killed 63 people, many of them as they tried to flee the flames in their cars.

Water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy arrived as part of a European Union cooperation program but they were grounded in some places because thick smoke limited visibility, officials said. That left firefighters — backed by fire engines and bulldozers — to do the heavy work on the ground in temperatures that approached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Firefighters brought some of the blazes under control, but other wildfires still raced through inaccessible parts of the area’s steep hills, the Civil Protection Agency said.

Portugal is observing three days of national mourning after the deaths Saturday night around the town of Pedrogao Grande, 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Lisbon.

Scorching weather, as well as strong winds and woods that are bone dry after weeks with little rain, fueled the blazes. Villages dot the landscape, much of it now scorched.

In Nodeirinho, a hillside village of a few dozen people, 84-year-old Marta da Conceicao said residents called the fire services more than 20 times for help on Saturday.

“Nobody came. They were up in the mountain or somewhere else,” she told The Associated Press. “Here it was up to God and the people.”

As the flames licked at her, burning her leg, she and her elderly neighbors survived by jumping into a water storage tank.

A British man living nearby also had a hair-raising escape. Like more than half of the dead in Saturday’s blaze, Daniel Starling had jumped in his car and…

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