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19 June 2017, 02:30 | Opal Carroll
Portugal declared three days of national mourning on Sunday after a forest fire triggered by thunderstorms in the north of the country killed more than 60 people, many of them fleeing in their cars. Gomes said most of the victims were caught in their vehicles on the road.
António Costa, the prime minister, described the blaze that broke out in a densely forested area near the small town of Pedrógão Grande, 200km northeast of Lisbon, as the country's "greatest human tragedy in living memory". The prime minister said the death toll could rise as rescuers continued to search buildings destroyed by the blaze.
Portugal was sweltering under a severe heatwave over the weekend, with temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions.
More than 350 soldiers on Sunday joined the 700 firefighters who have been struggling to put out the blaze, schools in the area were closed until further notice and outdoor fires were banned.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino, attending the match in Russian Federation, also offered his condolences. The European Commission said on Sunday that France and Spain have sent firefighting aircraft. He said authorities were anxious about strong winds that could help spreading the blaze further. Two people were killed in a traffic accident related to the fires.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed grief over the Portugal forest fire tragedy in which 62 people lost their lives.
Some local residents said they had been left without firefighters for hours as their homes burned.
Juncker wrote in the letter that "Our thoughts are with all the victims, their families and all the fearless soldiers of peace that in a very hard terrain and under challenging circumstances continue to fight this bad fire".
In recent years, Portugal has experienced numerous wildfires, but none like this. "It is an authentic inferno, we have never seen anything like that", Pedrogao Grande Mayor Valdemar Alves told reporters.
"France has offered three planes through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and they will be quickly sent to assist the local emergency efforts", EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said. "We were afraid the fire would reach us".
Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his weekly prayer on Sunday.
Authorities said the number of victims may increase as fire officials inspect the villages affected.
President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet victims' families, saying he was "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people".
Smoke from a forest fire is seen from the village of Dornes, in central Portugal.
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