Portugal’s deadliest fire still rages after 63 people killed | Reuters

By Axel Bugge and Andrei Khalip
| PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal

PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling Portugal’s deadliest forest blaze on Monday after it killed dozens over the weekend, and a fireman died from his injuries in a hospital, bringing the death toll to at least 63.

More than 70 people, including 13 firefighters, were taken to hospital on Monday with burns and injuries as the fires ravaged the central districts of Leiria and Castelo Branco.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who on Sunday visited the affected a mountainous area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, called it the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, media and residents questioned its efficiency and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year.

“So what failed this Saturday? Everything, as it has failed for decades,” read a headline in the newspaper Publico. It blamed a lack of coordination between services in charge of fire prevention and firefighting and poor forestry reserve planning.

Xavier Viegas, an expert on forest fires, said the blaze spread too quickly and violently for firefighters to respond in some villages, but the deaths have mainly shown shortcomings in communications to evacuate people in time.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway. Many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had abandoned their vehicles in panic. The firefighter who died on Monday had been helping people out of their cars when he was badly burned.

“It’s still hard to identify what failed, but it’s a bit of everything,” Viegas said. “Obviously, certain things that should have been done had not been done – especially in communicating with the population, telling them about the…

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