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Forest fire kills at least 25 in central Portugal

Death toll expected to rise, with firefighters battling at least 60 forest fires that started in Pedrogao Grande area.

At least 25 people have been killed and 20 more injured in central Portugal in a forest fire that has yet to be controlled, according to the government.

Jorge Gomes, Portugal's secretary of state for the internal affairs, said on Sunday that 22 people burned to death in their cars when they found themselves trapped by flames on the road between the cities of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.

Three more people died from smoke inhalation. At least 16 people were injured, including five firefighters.

About 1,700 firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched late on Saturday to tackle about 60 forest fires, which started in the afternoon in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande before spreading fast across several fronts.

Dry thunderstorms could have been the cause of the fatal blaze, Antonio Costa, Portugal's prime minister, said.

Portugal was coping with a severe heatwave on Saturday, with temperatures exceeding 40C in several regions.

"Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires," said Costa.

"The number of fatalities could still rise," he said at the Civil Protection headquarters near Lisbon.

"The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger."

Spain dispatched two water-bombing planes on Sunday morning to aid the Portuguese fire service on the ground, Costa said.

He also said a period of national mourning would be announced shortly.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo went to the Leiria region to meet families of the victims, "sharing their pain in the name of all the Portuguese people", he said.

Dozens of people who fled their homes were taken in by residents of the nearby municipality of Ansiao.


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