Wildfire toll hits 45 in Portugal-Spain but rain brings

Penacova: Overnight rain and calmer winds have helped firefighters tame a spate of deadly wildfires that broke out over the weekend, devouring homes and killing 41 people in Portugal and another four in northern Spain.

Portugal’s civil protection agency said Tuesday that the 15 biggest fires, which had raged through the centre and the north of the country, had been brought under control, but that the death toll had risen.

“We’ve gone from 37 dead to 41,” civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar told AFP.

As the country began three days of mourning for the victims, the agency said 71 people had been injured in the fires, 16 of them seriously. And one person was still missing.

Among the dead was a one-month-old baby.

“Most of the victims were killed in their cars, but we also found them inside their houses,” said Jose Carlos Alexandrino, mayor of Oliveira do Hospital near Coimbra, speaking to broadcaster RTP.

“The whole city looked like a ball of fire, surrounded by flames on all sides.”

Portugal’s conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on the socialist government to “bear all the consequences of this tragedy”.

“These more than a hundred deaths will never leave my mind, it’s a terrible weight on my conscience,” he said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Monday reaffirmed his pledge to prevent new tragedies by carrying out “fundamental reforms” in forest management and firefighting.

Across the border in Galicia, Spain’s westernmost province which flanks northern Portugal, the number of dead rose to four from fires which also broke out on Sunday and were stoked by warm winds as Hurricane Ophelia passed the Iberian Peninsula.

But by Tuesday, officials said they had lowered the alert level after early-morning rain and calmer winds halted the progression of the flames.

It is the second time in four months that Portugal has been hit by deadly wildfires after huge blazes in June killed 64 people, the worst fires in the country’s history.

“We went through absolute hell, it was horrible. There was fire everywhere,” a resident of the central town of Penacova told RTP television.

Further north, villagers from the Vouzela area spoke of how fast the fire spread.

“Everything happened in 45 minutes, the fire came to the foot of the village and spread at an incredible rate,” resident Jose Morais told AFP.

“I had never seen anything like that before. It felt like the end of the world. Everyone fled”.

Despite the rain, the civil protection agency said that around 3,000 firefighters remained deployed to tackle any resumption of the blaze, but that there had been no major active fires burning since dawn.