A huge forest fire in central Portugal killed at least 39 people and injured 20 others, most of them burning to death in their cars, the government said Sunday.
Several hundred firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched late Saturday to tackle the blaze, which broke out in the afternoon in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande before spreading fast across several fronts.
“Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” the visibly moved Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.
“The number of fatalities could still rise,” he said at the Civil Protection headquarters near Lisbon. “The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger.”
Portugal was sweltering under a severe heatwave Saturday, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions.
Some 60 forest fires broke out across the country during the night, with around 1,700 firefighters battling to put them out. Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said 22 people burned to death in their cars when they found themselves trapped by flames on the road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.
Three others died from smoke inhalation. Sixteen people were injured, including five firefighters. Two of those were seriously injured.