19 June 2017
Pope calls for prayer as 62 die in wildfires in central Portugal
Four children are among the victims, many of whom were found dead inside their cars as they tried to flee the forested region
Pope Francis called for prayer on Sunday for the victims of wildfires which killed 62 people, including four children, in central Portugal this weekend.
High temperatures and extremely dry weather often present problems for firefighters in Portugal, but the tragedy which struck the region around Pedrógão Grande, in the district of Leiria, was unexpected and unprecedented. It is already the largest tragedy, in terms of loss of human life, of the past several decades in the country.
The fire appears to have been caused by dry lightning while strong winds and low humidity did the rest. The flames spread very quickly destroying several homes but at least half the victims were killed in their cars or on the road as they tried to escape and the fire closed in on them.
“I express my closeness to the dear Portuguese people”, said Francis after the recitation of the angelus, “for the devastating fires that are destroying the woods around Pedrógão Grande and causing numerous victims and wounded. We pray in silence”.
The local bishop of Coimbra published a message of support for victims, as did the Patriarch of Lisbon and president of the bishops conference, Cardinal Manuel Clemente, and the bishop of Braga, Jorge Ortiga.
The bishop of Setúbal, south of Lisbon, was the first to promise practical support, asking all communities to donate to the diocesan branch of Caritas. The national Caritas association has already pledged 200 thousand euros to help in relief efforts. The Shrine of Fátima also promised financial support.
Portugal declared three days of mourning for the 62 victims of one of the country's deadliest forest fires while Prime Minister Antonio Costa called it "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires".
Hundreds of firefighters are continuing to tackle the blaze on several fronts.
PICTURE: A damaged vehicle near the area of the forest fires in Pedrogao Grande. The death toll from the forest fires raging in central Portugal rose to 62 on Sunday, with 54 others injured, and search for more bodies and investigation into the cause of the disaster are still underway.
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