Portugal Prime Minister thanks firefighters, mourns victims

LISBON, Portugal (AP)—Portugal’s prime minister has thanked the hundreds of firefighters combating forest fires that have killed at least 57 people.

Antonio Costa tweeted his “deepest regret for the victims … and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge.”

He added “I am so thankful to the firefighters and other professions who are giving their all for the security of each of us by fighting the fires.”

Also, Spain says it is sending two water-dumping aircraft to help neighboring Portugal fight the blaze that has raged since Saturday night.

EU offers aid

The European Union has activated its civil protection efforts to help Portugal fight forest fires that have killed at least 43 people.

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.”

Stylianides says that in response to a request for help by Portugal, Spain and France are both sending aircraft to help fight the flames.

France is sending three planes, while Spain has sent several firefighting aircraft.

Spain supports neighbor

Spain’s prime minister has offered support to Portugal after forest fires have killed at least 43 people in the neighboring country.

Mariano Rajoy has tweeted that he is “overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. The Portuguese people can count on our solidarity, support and care.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.

Many victims were killed when their cars were engulfed by flames as they swept across a country road near the town of Pedrogao Grande.

Drought and heat combine to create perfect firestorm

A local resident who fled from a forest fire in central Portugal has blamed the lack of rain for helping produce the blaze that has killed 43 people and injured scores more.

Avelar resident Isabel Brandao has told The Associated Press that “the problem is that there was no rain. If it had rained, this would not happen.”

Brandao said that “at 3:30 a.m. my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us.”

Portuguese authorities say that they are still investigating the cause of the fire. But Prime Minister Antonio Costa said high temperatures of 40 C (104 F) in recent days may have played a part.

Many victims were killed when their cars were engulfed by flames as they swept across a country road.

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