Portugal’s Civil Defense Commander Vitor Pinto said the forest fire, which has raged across central Portugal since Saturday, June 17, is almost completely contained.
“At this moment we have 95 percent of the fire perimeter under control,” he stated. “Five percent still active with high risk potential.”
Pinto could not say when the fire would be fully contained.
The combination of drought-dried forests, high heat, strong winds, and mountainous terrain make fighting the fire difficult.
The fire started near Pedrógão Grande, about 100 miles north of the capital, Lisbon, probably the result of a lightning strike. It burned out of control through the weekend, killing dozens of people who were trying to flee.
The fire choked off the main highway leading into and out of Pedrógão Grande, trapping people. Many of its victims died in their cars, on the road out of the region.
So far 62 deaths have been confirmed. More bodies might turn up as searchers reach some of the more remote villages now cut off by walls of flame.
Spain and France both sent water-dumping planes to assist in fighting the fire.
Several other fires broke out in the region at the same time.
There are more than 2,000 firefighters at work in the region right now, plus two battalions of soldiers sent to assist emergency personnel.
Prime Minister António Costa called the fire the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory. He ordered for three days’ mourning for the victims.
He also questioned the emergency response systems in place in the area.
The fire burned phone lines and cell towers, preventing the spread of information. Many people did not know they had been ordered to evacuate.
In many towns the only “warning system” was a single town official running from house to house, knocking on doors.
Other fire-prone regions, such as the Australian outback, have developed warning systems using text messages and emergency broadcast networks.
Nobody had thought to install such systems in the poor and sparsely populated Pedrógão Grande region.