Deadly forest fires rage in Portugal

Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 61 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what the prime minister on Sunday called “the biggest tragedy” the country has experienced in years.

Portugal has declared three days of national mourning for the victims in the blaze “which has caused an irreparable loss of human life,” according to a government statement.

A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrogao Grande area after investigators found a tree that was hit during a “dry thunderstorm,” the head of the national judicial police told Portuguese media. Dry thunderstorms are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. Portugal, like most southern European countries, is prone to forest fires in the dry summer months.

“This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we cannot remember a tragedy of these proportions,” said Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande. “I am completely stunned by the number of deaths.” (AP)

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Firefighters battling forest fire

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters battle a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Paulo Cunha/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Firefighters running along road

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters run along a road as they battle a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Paulo Cunha/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Smoke rising in distance

Smoke from a forest fire is seen from the village of Dornes, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Axel Bugge/Reuters)

Burned out car on road

A burned out car is shown on a road after a wildfire in Pedrogao, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Aircraft dropping water at fire

A Spanish Canadair fire fighting aircraft drops water over the Pedrogao Grande forest fire, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Miguel A. Lopes/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Firefighters resting at scene of fire

A firefighter rests next to fire combat truck during a wildfire at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, on June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Evacuees receiving medical care

Local residents receive medical care as they are evacuated from the village of Derreada Cimeira, Portugal, during a forest fire, June 18, 2017.(Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

Firefighters battling forest fire

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters battle a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Paulo Cunha/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Fire reflected in stream

Fire is reflected in a stream at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, on June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters spraying water onto fire

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. (Armando Franca/AP),

Forest engulfed in flames

A forest goes up in flames during a wildfire near the village of Mega Fundeira,
Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighters spraying water onto fire

Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. (Armando Franca/AP),

Firefighters resting at scene of fire

Firefighters rest during a forest fire at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, on June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Burned out cars

Burned out cars are seen in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)

Firefighter spraying water onto fire

Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. (Armando Franca/AP),

Forest engulfed in flames

A forest goes up in flames during a wildfire near the village of Mega Fundeira,
Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

Deadly forest fires rage in Portugal

Police officer standing near body of fire victim

A policeman stands by a dead body of a victim of a wildfire in Pedrogao, on June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Burned out cars and blankets draped over victims

Burned out cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. (Armando Franca/AP),

Fire and smoke on motorway

Fire and smoke is seen on the IC8 motorway during a forest fire near Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Miguel Vidal/Reuters)

Burned out vehicles on road

Burned out cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. (Armando Franca/AP)

Policeman standing near burned out cars and body of victim

A policeman stands near two burned out cars and the body of a victim of a wildfire in a forest of Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Forest fire raging

A fire truck is shown during a wildfire at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, on June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Couple reacting while on roadway

A couple stands on the roadside watching firefighters pass by in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 18, 2017. Luisilda Malheiro, left, and Eduardo Abreu lost almost all the animals from their farm during a wildfire the previous night. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Firefighter standing on truck in front of fire

A firefighter stands on top of a fire truck during a wildfire in Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Red Cross and police evacuating homes

People are evacuated from their houses by Red Cross and police due the proximity of a dangerous wildfire at Torgal, Castanheira de Pera, Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Man reacting near burned out truck

A man walks past the remains of his truck, which was destroyed during a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

Refrigerated truck arriving to tramsport bodies

A Portuguese Civil Protection refrigerated truck arrives to transport the bodies of victims near burned cars on a road between Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. At least 62 people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (Paulo Novais/EPA/Rex/Shutterstock)

Man standing roadside watching fire

A man stands by the roadside as he watches a wildfire burn in the distance at Anciao, Leiria, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. (Patricia De Melo Moreira/AFP/Getty Images)

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