Portugal's worst wildfire in decades kills at least 62; Lightning suspected cause
By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
June 19, 2017, 8:47:05 AM EDT
At least 62 people were killed and dozens more injured after hot and windy conditions fanned a massive wildfire in central Portugal.
Lightning is the suspected cause of the blaze, which began on Saturday afternoon and is burning in the mountainous area of Pedrogao Grande, about 120 miles (193 km) northeast of Lisbon.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the blaze may have been ignited during a "dry thunderstorm," which is a storm with very little or no rainfall, gusty winds and frequent lightning.
Most of the fatalities occurred in vehicles as people were trying to flee the fire. Others died from smoke inhalation.
Portugal's prime minister António Costa referred to the wildfire as "the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years," according to the AP. The country has declared three days of national mourning.
Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Neighboring Spain and other members of the European Union are sending aid to help with firefighting efforts.
Over 2,000 firefighters are on the scene, but intense heat and strong winds have made it extremely difficult to contain the blaze. Several firefighters were injured severely.
On Monday, Portuguese officials said giant clouds of smoke prevented the deployment of water-dropping aircraft on wildfires. This has hindered containment of wildfires burning through inaccessible hills across central Portugal.
“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande, told the AP. “I am complete stunned by the number of deaths.”
A man on the balcony of a house looks up at a forest fire raging on a hillside above the village of Avelar, central Portugal, before sunrise Sunday, June 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
This is the deadliest fire in Portugal since 1966, when 25 people were killed during a wildfire near Lisbon, according to The Telegraph.
Heat will slowly throttle back across Portugal through the week with high temperatures falling from 99 F (37 C) early this week to 86 F (30 C) by Friday, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Tyler Roys.
"Winds should not be much of an issue [as Saturday], but localized wind issues are still possible, especially around the fire," Roys said. "The next few days will remain dry."