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A firefighting airplane drops its load of water trying to prevent a forest fire from reaching a rural Portuguese village earlier today. Armando Franca AP/PA Images
Forest fires

Prime Minister demands 'immediate answers' as forest fires continue to rage in Portugal

Earlier reports had suggested a plane had crashed while attempting to battle the blazes.

Updated 8.24pm

PORTUGAL’S PRIME MINSISTER led calls today to find out why a highway now dubbed the “road of death” — where most of the 64 victims of a giant forest fire perished — had not been blocked off, as questions mounted over the disaster management response.

More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling to control the flames which broke out in the central Pedrogao Grande region at the weekend and spread at breakneck speed to neighbouring areas.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa sought “immediate explanations” why the national 236 highway “had not been closed to traffic” and why it had been signalled by gendarmes as an alternative route after a nearby road had been sealed off, according to the Lusa national news agency.

Forty-seven of the 64 forest fire victims died on the N236 which has been branded the “road of death” or the “road of hell” by the local media.

Thirty of them burned to death in their cars, trapped by the flames.

False reports

Authorities had earlier said that a firefighting plane had crashed attempting to extinguish fires in the region.

An official with Portugal’s Air Accident Office said a Canadair water-dropping plane has crashed in central Portugal while fighting the wildfires. Maria Jose Andre told The Associated Press that the Civil Protection Agency, which is overseeing firefighting operations, informed her office that the plane had crashed.

Her office immediately sent a crash investigation team to the area but that she had no details about the plane, its crew or where the crash happened, she said.

Officials with the Portuguese government and the Civil Protection Agency said they could not confirm the crash.

“We are investigating if (the reports) are true,” Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said.

Civil Protection Agency spokesman Fausto Coutinho says authorities had received reports of a plane crash near where wildfires are raging and dispatched a helicopter to check.

Spain Portugal Fires AP AP

‘Very fast and very explosive’

Officials said the blaze was mostly contained, though still burning fiercely.

Some firefighting resources were being diverted to Gois, about 20 kilometers from Pedrogao Grande, where almost 800 firefighters and four planes were battling the flames. Commander Vitor Vaz Pinto told reporters said the Gois wildfire was “very fast and very explosive” and had forced the evacuation of 11 hill villages.

APTOPIX Portugal Forest Fires AP AP

Temperatures forecast to reach 43 degrees Celsius, gusting winds and bone-dry woodland were fueling the blazes, Vaz Pinto said.

With reporting from AFP

Read: Four-year-old boy whose parents were on honeymoon among dead in Portugal fires>

Associated Foreign Press
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