Forest fires kill at least 62 in central Portugal

A man on the balcony of a house looks up at a forest fire raging on a hillside above the village of Avelar central Portugal before sunrise Sunday

The mayor of Pedrogao Grande, Valdemar Alves, said that due to the area being forested, they have experienced fires before, but never to this extent.

The Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, said "Greece will offer any help necessary to fight the fires".

The number of dead, which includes at least four children, is expected to rise, El Hammar said.

"The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently. but we're doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire", Gomes said, adding that no villages were now at risk.

The Pedrógão Grande fire is one of more than 60 fires that broke out overnight throughout the country, the BBC reported, and according to the New York Times, an additional 11 areas were under surveillance for an "extreme fire risk". "Everything here is forest and therefore I'm familiar with fires", a local resident said.

Dry thunderstorms could be the reason behind the raging fires, the PM said.

Portugal was sweltering under a severe heatwave Saturday, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in several regions.

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Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced three days of mourning, set for Monday through Wednesday.

Home Affairs Secretary Jorge Gomes confirmed late on Saturday night: "At the moment we have confirmation 19 people, all civilians, have died. The flames passed within two or three kilometres of my house", said local resident Isabel Ferreira, 62.

Nearly 700 firefighters and more than 200 fire engines have been deployed to tackle the flames, according to the civil defence service.

The EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides expressed his condolences for the victims in a statement, saying the "EU is fully ready to help".

Forest fires are common in the the Iberian peninsula during the summer months, but today's example is particularly extreme.

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.

We have had large-scale fires before over the past couple of decades - this year is not unusual in that respect - but it is certainly unusual to have so many fatalities in one place.

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