Wildfire toll hits 45 in Portugal-Spain

Wildfire toll hits 45 in Portugal-Spain

Wildfire toll hits 45 in Portugal-Spain

Overnight rain and calmer winds have helped firefighters tame a spate of deadly wildfires that broke out over the weekend, devouring homes and killing 41 people in Portugal and another four in northern Spain.

Portugal's civil protection agency said on Oct. 17 that the 15 biggest fires, which had raged through the centre and the north of the country, had been brought under control, but that the death toll had risen.

"We've gone from 37 dead to 41," civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar told AFP.

As the country began three days of mourning for the victims, the agency said 71 people had been injured in the fires, 16 of them seriously. And one person was still missing.

Among the dead was a one-month-old baby.

"Most of the victims were killed in their cars, but we also found them inside their houses," said Jose Carlos Alexandrino, mayor of Oliveira do Hospital near Coimbra, speaking to broadcaster RTP.

"The whole city looked like a ball of fire, surrounded by flames on all sides."

Portugal's conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called on the socialist government to "bear all the consequences of this tragedy.”

"These more than a hundred deaths will never leave my mind, it's a terrible weight on my conscience," he said.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa on Oct. 16 reaffirmed his pledge to prevent new tragedies by carrying out "fundamental reforms" in forest management and firefighting.

Across the border in Galicia, Spain's westernmost province which flanks northern Portugal, the number of dead rose to four from fires which also broke out on Oct. 15 and were stoked by warm winds as Hurricane Ophelia passed the Iberian Peninsula.

But by Oct. 17, officials said they had lowered the alert level after early-morning rain and calmer winds halted the progression of the flames.

It is the second time in four months that Portugal has been hit by deadly wildfires after huge blazes in June killed 64 people, the worst fires in the country's history, prompting Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa to resign yesterday.

The Interior Ministry is in charge of firefighters, the police and civil protection agency, which have all faced criticism after the fires.
In her resignation letter, the minister said: “I didn’t have the political and personal conditions to continue in my post.”

Costa said in a statement he accepted the minister’s resignation.

This year’s fires have burned a total of 350,000 hectares, the worst since 2003.