Portugal fires: Three days of national mourning for wildfire victims

Portugal fires: Three days of national mourning for wildfire victims

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Thousands of firefighters were involved in battling the forest fires

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning, beginning on Tuesday, for the victims of wildfires that raged across the country.

At least 36 people died after hundreds of fires spread across central and northern areas on Sunday and Monday.

They started in dry conditions and fanned by strong Atlantic winds from Hurricane Ophelia,

Across the border in Spain, at least three people died in wildfires in the Galicia region.

The number of fires prompted Portugal to declare a state of emergency in areas north of the river Tagus – almost half its landmass.

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Media captionFirefighters battle flames in Portugal and Spain

Prime Minister António Costa issued a statement on what he called the largest wave of fires the country had experienced since 2006.

He said his cabinet would meet on Saturday to adopt recommendations of a report on fire prevention commissioned after a blaze in June that killed 64 people.

“After this year, nothing should remain as it was before,” he said.

Rain on Monday helped to quench many fires, though more than a dozen still burned overnight, Portuguese officials say.

  • Raging wildfires – in pictures
  • Why are Portugal’s wildfires so deadly?

Residents said they had little time to react. “The fire came at the foot of the village and spread at an incredible rate,” Jose Morais, who lives in Vouzela in the Viseu region, told AFP news agency.

“It felt like the end of the world. Everyone fled”.

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Fires continued into Monday night, despite rainfall in some affected areas

Among Portugal’s dead was a one-month old baby, local media outlets reported, and several people were still missing.

In Spain’s Galicia region, two of the three victims were found together in a burned-out car on the roadside.

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The Spanish prime minister, who is from Galicia, visited the region on Monday

Spanish politicians said the fires on their side of the border had been set by arsonists.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who travelled to Galicia on Monday, said one fire had been started at five different points. “It’s impossible for this to be triggered under natural circumstances.”

Galician leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo labelled the arson as “terrorist acts”, while Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said authorities had identified suspects.

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