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Firefighters battling forest fire

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters battle a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Paulo Cunha/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Deadly forest fires rage in Portugal

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 61 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what the prime minister on Sunday called “the biggest tragedy” the country has experienced in years.

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for the victims in the blaze “which has caused an irreparable loss of human life,” according to a government statement.

A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area after investigators found a tree that was hit during a “dry thunderstorm,” the head of the national judicial police told Portuguese media. Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande. “I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.” (AP)

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