Portugal Awaits Foreign Help to Fight Deadly Wildfires

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa embraces Secretary of State of Internal Administration Jorge Gomes

Officials in Portugal said that on Saturday, wildfires raging through the country killed at least 39 people and injured 20, some of them the very firefighters who were fighting the wildfires.

The fire broke out shortly before 3 pm local time (1400 GMT) in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande in Leiria district.

Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze on several fronts.

"Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires", Prime Minister Antonio Costa said about the fire in Pedrogao Grande about 120 miles north of Lisbon.

As the country observes three days of national mourning, the tragedy is reverberating thousands of kilometres away, in the hearts of many in Toronto's Little Portugal.

Portugal has been in the midst of a massive heatwave on Saturday, with temperatures in some areas hovering at around 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). Other 54 people were injured, including four firefighters and a seriously injured minor, Gomes told state broadcaster RTP.

At least 61 people have perished in the flames.

The huge fires had been caused by dry lightning, Almeida Rodrigues, director of the Portuguese criminal investigation police (PJ), told reporters.

France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.

Such storms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures.

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

The prime minister said the emergency services acted as fast as they could but acknowledged that some of the efforts like alerting the population might have been hindered because the blaze had ruined phone lines and communications towers.

"While we still don't know the full toll of this disaster, we know that the community has been devastated", said Michelle Jorge, president of The Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals in Toronto.

One of multiple fires that spread in Portugal sent flames sweeping across a road, which reached motorists who became trapped in their cars.

"Portugal weeps for Pedrogao Grande", said the I newspaper while mainstream Publico's headline simply read "Why?"

More than 140 forest fires continued to burn across the country Sunday night, with around 2,000 firefighters battling to put them out.

Portugal was hit by a series of fires a year ago which devastated more than 100,000 hectares (1,000 square kilometres) of the mainland. In August, four people were killed in a blaze on the popular tourist island of Madeira.

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