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PORTUGAL: Fire-fighting plane crashes while tackling blazes

21 Juin 2017

More than 1,500 firefighters in Portugal are still battling to control major wildfires in the central region of the country, where one blaze killed 62 people.

Cables and communications towers were burnt down, hindering efforts by firefighters to warn the public as the fire spread quickly across dense woodland in Pedrogao Grande, a rural area about 90 miles northeast of Lisbon.

Emergency services were unable to co-ordinate the fight against Portugal's deadliest forest fire in the hours after it started because a radio system created to help tackle such disasters relied on mobile phone antennae that had been destroyed by the flames.

Civil Protection Agency spokesman Fausto Coutinho suggested that word of a plane crash was based on misleading information relayed from the fire area. Her office immediately sent a crash investigation team to the area.

Spokesman Fausto Coutinho said: "it could have been a unusual coincidence, with a plane passing over and an explosion occurring on the ground at the same time".

The country's Civil Protection department said that the battle against the flames is still very hard in the Pedrogao Grande, where 1,100 soldiers and firefighters are working with hundreds of vehicles and dozens of aircraft.

Officials said the blaze was mostly contained, though still burning fiercely.

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He said all 13 planes hired by the agency to help fight the blazes are accounted for, but a total of 30 water-dropping aircraft are engaged in battling the blazes, some operating under bilateral agreements with the Portuguese government and others as part of a European Union cooperation agreement.

An official with Portugal's Air Accident Office earlier told The Associated Press and Portuguese media that the Civil Protection Agency informed the office that a Canadair had crashed.

On Tuesday night, the authorities evacuated more villages around Gois, to the north of Pedrogão Grande, as wildfires which appeared to be under control flared up again.

Vitor Vaz Pinto, a Civil Protection Agency spokesman, said airborne search-and-rescue teams are looking for wreckage among the smoke-shrouded hills where wildfires are still raging.

It has been dubbed the "road of death" as Portugal's Prime Minister Antonio Costa led calls to find out why it had not been shut.

The wildfires in Portugal that killed more than 60 could have been started by arsonists rather than lightning, the head of the country's firefighters' association said Wednesday.

Emergency services have also been criticized for not closing a road where 47 of the deaths occurred as people fled the flames.