PEDROGAO GRANDE, PORTUGALA (CBS) — A huge forest fire raging since Saturday (June 17) in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, the government said on Sunday (June 18), in what is possibly the deadliest-ever forest blaze in the Atlantic coastal country, used to the woods burning almost every summer.
The death toll released by Jorge Gomes, the secretary of state for internal affairs, has gradually climbed from the 19 initially announced late on Saturday. Gomes said most of the victims were caught in their vehicles on the road.
Another 54 people have been injured and taken to hospitals, including four in serious condition.
Various local residents said they had been left to their own devices and had seen no firefighters for hours while their homes burned.
Others complained about poor forestry reserve planning and depopulation of remote villages, which leaves many wooded areas unattended.
In one village of Nodeirinho, where 11 residents have died, cars were found burnt.
The government declared three days of mourning and sent two army battalions to help the emergency services.
The European Union said it would provide firefighting aircraft.
France has offered three planes and Spain has sent two, authorities said.
Speaking in the Vatican, Pope Francis, who visited Portugal last month, mentioned the victims in his weekly address.