Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 62 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.
Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said that 60 people died from the flames and suffocating smoke, while another two people perished in a traffic accident related to the fires. Other 54 people were injured, including four firefighters and a seriously injured minor, Gomes told state broadcaster RTP.
Gomes said that at least 30 people were killed when their vehicles were engulfed by flames on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, and three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos. The rest of the bodies were found outside of the cars or in the forest, the official said.