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Portugal fires: Three days of national mourning for wildfire victims


Portugal fires: Three days of national mourning for wildfire victims

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Media caption"There are no words to describe it – no words"

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.

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.

The June fire prompted a controversy over Portugal's state of preparedness, but on Monday Mr Costa ruled out firing cabinet ministers.

Rain helped to quench many fires late on Monday , 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".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fires continued into Monday night, despite rainfall in some affected areas

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

Image copyright EPA
Image caption 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."

Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said authorities had identified suspects.

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