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Portugal: more than 20 dead in forest fires

Portugal: more than 20 dead in forest fires

Image Below: A woman is attended by Red Cross workers outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017.

The huge forest fire raging since Saturday (June 17) has killed at least 62 people, the government said on Sunday (June 18), in what is possibly the deadliest-ever forest blaze in the Atlantic coastal country, used to the woods burning nearly every summer.

Here's a look at why Portugal seems helplessly prone to the phenomenon and what lessons it might be able to learn.

Xavier Viegas, a wildfire expert at Portugal's Coimbra University, says Portugal needs a longer-term strategy.

The reasons why are many.

Portugal sweltered under a severe heatwave over the weekend, with temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions. There's a lot of forest around many small villages, and tragedy could strike again any time, any where, she said. It rebuked authorities for allowing the planting of huge swathes of eucalyptus trees - the country's most common and most profitable species - but one that's often blamed for stoking blazes.

The Judicial Police told Efe that the police had ruled out arson and pointed to lightning striking a tree as the most likely cause of the deadly fire.

The regional prosecutor has ordered a criminal investigation into the fire's causes but the probe could be dropped if the police version is fully confirmed. The period of national mourning ends on Tuesday. The crisis, although officially over, forced cutbacks in virtually all areas of government.

But global climate change is also emerging as a factor.

"The fire is still raging on four fronts", he said, of which two were spreading "violently".

Portugal has lots of experience but seems short on equipment and finances. "I commend the bravery of the firefighters".

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Reinforcements are due to arrive today, including more water-dropping planes from Spain, France and Italy as part of a European Union cooperation program.

Nearly 700 firefighters and more than 200 fire engines have been deployed to tackle the flames, according to the civil defence service.

"Nobody came. They were up in the mountain or somewhere else", she told The Associated Press.

A vehicle is left burnt-out following the deadly fires. On the main approach into town are miles of burnt, smoldering forest. Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal's Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University. There are concerns strong winds could help spread the blaze further.

The fire broke out Saturday just before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in the region of Leiria. More than 350 soldiers were joining Sunday the 700 firefighters who were struggling to put out the blaze since Saturday, the government said.

"During these hard moments, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs conveys its condolences to the people of Portugal and stands by the families of those killed and injured", the statement reads.

Modi is scheduled to visit the European country on June 24.

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.

"I managed to contact a relative who got her out".

"We express our condolences to those that have lost loved ones", he said. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".


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