Two Brits treated after Portugal fires

At Least 43 Dead in Central Portugal Forest Fires

At Least 43 Dead in Central Portugal Forest Fires

Scores of people have been killed in wildfires burning in the Portuguese area of Leiria, including a forested area known as Pedrogao Grande, on the weekend of June 17-18.

Strong winds together with temperatures above 40 degrees on Saturday caused the fire to spread rapidly, hindering the work of firefighters.

Gomes says 54 people were also injured in the fire, five of them seriously, including four firefighters and a minor.

"It's the greatest tragedy of human lives that we've seen with forest fires in Portugal in the last few years", Prime Minister Antonio Costa said overnight in comments broadcast by television channel SIC Noticias.

Once the scope of the fire was realized, emergency reinforcements were sent in by European Union officials, with police and military units joining Portuguese firefighters and a pair of Spanish planes in the effort to stop the inferno.

Survivors emerged Monday with stories of leaping into water tanks and other dramatic escapes from the forest fires scorching central Portugal, and authorities came under mounting criticism for not doing more to prevent Portugal's deadliest natural disaster in decades.

According to an initial analysis by the Judicial Police, the fire was caused by a dry thunderstorm, Gomes said. Numerous survivors are blaming local authorities, claiming that they were left to fight the flames alone for hours.

Starling told The Associated Press on Monday that he had to speed around trees that had fallen on the road and had to go off the road.

Expressing shock and horror at the deaths, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who comes from Portugal, said the United Nations was ready to help. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".

The southern European country is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

On Sunday, Costa also tweeted his "deepest regret for the victims... and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge".

Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said 59 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke, while another two people perished in a traffic accident related to the fires.

The victim was one of four firefighters hospitalized at the Coimbra University Hospital since Sunday morning due to serious burns suffered during the first hours of the fight against the flames. France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.

Some 500 firefighters were dispatched to the site of the blaze.

At least 11 people were killed in the village Saturday when it was swept by a forest fire. The Portuguese Red Cross will, however, accept direct assistance to provide support to the affected population through its national appeal (see details below). The ministry would not release the person's name out of respect for the family.

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