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At least 62 die in Portuguese forest fire

A massive forest fire in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, many of them burned to death in their cars. At least 59 people are reported to have been injured in the fire that erupted amid an intense heat wave and rainless thunderstorms.

Three days of national mourning, starting Sunday was declared by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

“Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” he said. “The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger.”

Officials say hundreds of firefighters have been dispatched to battle the blaze in the mountainous area of Pedrogao Grande, about 150 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.

Spain and France are sending aircraft to assist in efforts to douse the flames, authorities say. The European Union is also mounting an emergency assistance campaign.

“Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

The number of fatalities could rise, he added. “The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger,” the prime minister said.

“The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently … but we’re doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire,” Jorge Gomes, secretary of state for the Interior, told Reuters, adding that no villages were currently at risk.

He said it was difficult to determine whether the people who burned in their cars “were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise.”

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