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Nearly 60 killed as forest fires sweep across central Portugal

18 Juin 2017

At least 57 people have been killed by wild forest fires in central Portugal, with many dying in their cars as they tried to run from the flames, the government said on Sunday.

Portuguese radio station TSF says the Interior Ministry has confirmed that 25 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal. More than 350 soldiers were joining Sunday the 700 firefighters who were struggling to put out the blaze since Saturday, the government said.

Cars drive past a burnt auto on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, on Sunday, June 18 2017. Five of them were seriously injured: four firefighters and a child. Fourteen of the injured were in a serious condition.

Some victims got stuck in their cars and on the side of the road in what officials described as the "greatest wildfire tragedy of recent years".

A dry thunderstorm is a storm with thunder and lightning, with most or all the rain evaporating before reaching the ground.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was "very intense".

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 60 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke, while another two people perished in a traffic accident related to the fires.

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The fire, which has yet to be controlled, is already one of the deadliest forest fires in Portugal in decades.

"This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions", added Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande. "I am shocked with this death toll". He said authorities were anxious about strong winds that could help spreading the blaze further.

More than 100,000 hectares of the the country's mainland was devastated by a series of fires past year.

The commission said France had offered the use of three planes, which "will be quickly sent to assist the local emergency efforts".

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he is "overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande".

Three people were killed and over 1,000 evacuated in the Portuguese island of Madeira due to the fierce wildfires a year ago. "Deepest condolences to the Portuguese people on this tragedy", tweeted Modi, who is slated to visit the European country on June 24.