Death toll in Portugal wildfires reaches 41

At least 41 people have died in Portugal, where firefighters are slowly gaining control over the 15 major blazes.

The fires, which have ripped through the centre and north of the country, have been brought under control with the help of overnight rain and lighter winds.

Portugal has begun three days of mourning for the victims as 71 people recover from injuries, 16 of them in a serious condition.

A funeral ceremony for a victim of a forest fire is seen in Vila Nova, near Vouzela, Portugal October 17, 2017
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A funeral ceremony for a victim of a forest fire in Portugal

There is one person still missing, officials have said.

Jose Carlos Alexandrino, mayor of Oliveira do Hospital near Coimbra, told broadcaster RTP: “Most of the victims were killed in their cars, but we also found them inside their houses.

“The whole city looked like a ball of fire, surrounded by flames on all sides.”

Jose Morais, a resident in the village of Vouzela , told AFP: “Everything happened in 45 minutes, the fire came to the foot of the village and spread at an incredible rate.

“I had never seen anything like that before. It felt like the end of the world. Everyone fled.”

Albertina Miranda walks inside her burnt house after a forest fire in Lagares, near Santa Comba Dao, Portugal October 17, 2017
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Albertina Miranda walks inside her burnt house in Lagares, Portugal

A senior fire officer told Portuguese news RTP: “There was a lot of rain during the night but not enough to completely put out the fire.”

He added that the main difficulty for firefighters was tiredness and the large area they needed to cover.

This year, fire has destroyed more than 350,000 hectares of vegetation in Portugal, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

This is four times the annual average over the past decade.

One of the problems is that the country has many fast-burning eucalyptus trees, used to supply the country’s paper industry.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa has promised to prevent more fires by carrying out “fundamental reforms” in forest management and firefighting.

In June, 64 people were killed in the country’s worst fires.

Firefighters from the Military Emergency Unit (UME) work to put out a forest fire near As Nieves, northern Spain, October 15, 2017
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Firefighters from the Military Emergency Unit near As Nieves in northern Spain

Spain has also been suffering, with four people killed in fires in the western province of Galicia.

The fires in Spain broke out on Sunday and were made worse by warm winds.

By Tuesday, the alert level had been lowered, however, and firefighters were gaining control.

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy blamed arsonists for many of the fires.

He said: “What we are experiencing here does not happen by chance.”

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