Rodrigo Rosario who died with his uncle, Sidel Belchior, aged 37, when fire engulfed the car in which they were travelling
At least four children are among the 62 people confirmed as dead in devastating forest fires in Portugal.
One of the youngsters was named locally as four-year-old Rodrigo Rosario, killed with his uncle Sidel Belchior, after their car was engulfed by flames on a country road near the historic university city of Coimbra.
Sidel, 37, was looking after the Lisbon-born boy while his newly-married parents Ana Cardita Rosario and Belchior Nuno were enjoying their honeymoon in Cape Verde.
Rodrigo’s grannie broke down in tears as she told a Portuguese TV crew rescuers had found his charred body by the car after a desperate social media appeal for information on his whereabouts by his anguished mum.
The other children are believed to include a four-year-old girl known only as Bianca who is said to have died as she fled with a relative, and two youngsters aged five and six are thought to have died in their car after they were trapped.
The death toll from the fires, centred around villages in the muncipality of Pedrogao Grande, were blamed by police on a lightning strike during a dry storm at around 3pm yesterday.
The death toll was expected to rise as firefighters and rescue teams reached areas cut off by the flames.
Forest fire specialist Xavier Viegas described the fire, which also left around 60 people injured including four ‘badly hurt’ firefighters, as one of the most serious in the world in recent years.
The university professor, who blamed its rapid spread on the drought and the area’s complicated terrain, said: ‘With the repercussion it’s having in Portugal and abroad, I think it’s one of the largest and most serious fires we’ve seen in the last few years in Europe, if not in the world.’
Many people died in their cars while trying to escape the flames in the Pedrógão Grande area, according to government sources.
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Flames rise during a forest fire in Pedrogao Grande, Leiria District, Center of Portugal. At least 57 people have been killed, including many people who were trapped in their cars as flames swept over the road
Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the tragedy ‘the worst loss of human life we’ve known in recent years.’
Survivors told last night how they pulled the young and elderly from their homes in dramatic rescues before trying to reach safety themselves.
Ana Morada, one of 200 people who spent the night at a makeshift shelter at a local football club, said: ‘It was horrible. I had my grandma on the phone surrounded by flames and begging me for help.
Rodrigo, who lived in Lisbon, was staying with his uncle Sidel Belchior, 37, while his parents were abroad on their honeymoon in Cape Verde when the tragedy occurred. Three other children aged three to six are also believed to be among the dead
‘I managed to contact a relative who got her out. I saw neighbours running from their cars that were burning. The only firm in the area has burnt to the ground. It’s a catastrophe.’
Susana Antunes fought back tears as she told Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Noticias: ‘We lost our car but fortunately my family and I are all okay.
‘Everything went up to flames in 15 minutes. My grandparents had to run out of their house barefoot.’
Maria de Fatima Nunes, who suffered burn injuries, told a TV interviewer: ‘It was real hell. I thought it was the end of the world. I didn’t think I was going to escape. I thought I was going to die.
‘Burning pine trees were crashing down on top of cars. It was horrible.’
Fire and smoke is seen on the IC8 motorway during a forest fire near Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal today
Distressing footage broadcast on Portuguese TV today showed a woman being led away from her house, visibly upset and being given water to drink to save her from collapsing as she cried out, ‘My house, my house’ against a backdrop of thick smoke and flames.
Another graphic image showed a woman sitting by the side of the road with her head in her hands as rescuers around her led other people to safety.
Government ministers said this afternoon that the fires were still being fought on four fronts, with crosswinds threatening to make the job of the hundreds of firefighters tackling the flames even more difficult.
Firefighters from Spain were drafted in to help crews from other parts of Portugal trying to bring the fires under control.
Portugal has declared three days of national mourning from 6pm today for the victims in the blaze ‘which has caused an irreparable loss of human life,’ according to a government statement.
It is possibly the deadliest ever single forest blaze to hit Portugal.
Of the 59 people injured, four are in a serious condition, and four firefighters and a child are all injured.
Teams of psychologists have been deployed to care for survivors, who are ‘in shock’ and have lost relatives.
The blaze has been described as ‘almost impossible to control’ and emergency services have spoken of a ‘horrible scenario’.
Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal today
Police investigators stand by a burnt car on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, today. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed more than 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars
Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, pictured today. The prime minister António Costa has called the fire ‘the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years’
A lightning strike is believed to have sparked the blaze in the Pedrógão 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 – which it is now believed are responsible for sparking the fire – are frequent when falling water evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures.
Policia Judiciaria national director Almeida Rodrigues said: ‘The PJ, together with the GNR police force, have managed to establish the origin of the fire and it’s all clearly pointing towards natural causes.
‘We’ve even found a tree that was struck by lightning. We’ve managed to determine that the fire was caused by dry thunderstorms.’
The death toll is expected to rise further during the day as ‘many’ people were said to be still missing.
A man stands on the roadside watching a wildfire at Anciao, Leiria, central Portugal. The wildfire has killed at least 43 people and injured 16 others, many of them burning to death in their cars, the government said today
Several roads of Pedrógão Grande have been cut off as firemen battle the blaze on four different fronts, fanned by the heat and wind.
The Pedrógão Grande area is 50 km (30 miles) south-east of Coimbra, a UNESCO world heritage site and university town popular with tourists and international students.
There were no immediate reports of any British casualties.
The area is mainly home to Portuguese nationals, although it is frequented by some holidaymakers from other parts of Europe.
In 2003, the worst year for fatal wildfires in Portugal until this weekend, they claimed the lives of 21 people across Portugal.
The updated death toll was released today by Jorge Gomes, the secretary of state for internal affairs, having climbed from the 19 initially announced dead late yesterday.
A policeman stands by a dead body of a victim of a wildfire in Pedrogao. The wildfire has killed at least 57 people and injured 59 others. Several hundred firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched late on June 17 to tackle the blaze
Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters work to stop the fire from reaching the village of Avelar at sunrise today. 16 people died in their cars when fire reached the road
‘We are facing the greatest tragedy of human victims of recent times by a disaster of this type,’ said the Portuguese prime minister, António Costa.
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.’
Firefighters work to put out a forest fire near Bouca, in central Portugal. The forest fires have already claimed 39 lives, 59 people are injured and at least two people are missing
Authorities had previously said that 40 C (104 F) heat in recent days might have played a part in the inferno about 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of Lisbon.
A huge wall of thick smoke and bright red flames towered over the top of trees near houses in the wooded region. Local resident Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press that she had feared for her life.
‘Yesterday we saw the fire but thought it was very far. I never thought it would come to this side,’ she said.
‘At 3.30am, my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us.’
The European Union has activated its civil protection efforts to help fight the fires. EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the ‘EU is fully ready to help’
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that firefighting crews were having difficulties in approaching the area because the fire was ‘very intense.’
He added that Portuguese authorities were working on identifying the victims and that Spanish rescuers would assist in efforts to control the blazes.
Portuguese Republican National Guard soldiers battle with a forest fire in Capela Sao Neitel, Alvaiazere, central Portugal
Firefighters battle a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal today. At least 62 people have died in the fires, with many people trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road yesterday evening. 733 firefighters are providing assistance
Portugal’s civil protection agency, which coordinates the firefighting efforts, issued a warning of the increased risk for forest fires on Friday. Citing the high temperatures, it said that all outdoor fires were prohibited.
At least 16 people died in their cars on a road between the towns of Figueiro dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera – an inland area with many hotels and holiday resorts.
Interior Ministry official Jorge Gomes said that three others died from smoke inhalation in Figueiro dos Vinhos.
‘Many’ people are said to be missing and homes have been destroyed.
Portugal has been experiencing soaring temperatures of up to 40 degrees and this, coupled with the wind, has been fueling the flames.
Portugal has been experiencing soaring temperatures of up to 40 degrees and this, coupled with the wind, has been fueling the flames. Some 600 – 700 firefighters have been fighting the blaze, helped by Spanish rescuers
Approximately 700 firefighters have been fighting the blaze, helped by Spanish rescuers.
The European Union has activated its civil protection efforts to help fight the fires.
EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said the ‘EU is fully ready to help’.
He said Spain and France are both sending aircraft to help fight the flames.
Portugal’s soccer team has expressed its condolences for the victims of forest fires that have claimed at least 57 lives. The team’s players, including Cristiano Ronaldo and coach Fernando Santos, signed a statement saying ‘in this sad hour we send our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the fires’
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy tweeted that he is ‘overwhelmed by the tragedy at Pedrogao Grande. The Portuguese people can count on our solidarity, support and care’.
Spain said it is sending two water-dumping aircraft to help neighboring Portugal fight the blaze that has raged since Saturday night.
Portugal’s soccer team has expressed its condolences for the victims of forest fires that have claimed so many lives.
The team’s players, including star Cristiano Ronaldo and coach Fernando Santos, signed a statement saying ‘in this sad hour we send our deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the fires.’
Portugal’s team is in Russia, where it is set to start the Confederations Cup later on Sunday against Mexico.
Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Group A match between Portugal and Mexico at Kazan Arena today in Kazan, Russia
A firefighter rests next to a fire combat truck during a wildfire at Penela, Coimbra, central Portugal today. Several hundred firefighters and 160 vehicles were dispatched late yesterday to tackle the blaze, which broke out in the afternoon
Pope Francis has led thousands of people in a moment of silent prayer for the victims of the Portugal fire.
Francis referred to the ‘devastating fire’ at the end of his Sunday prayer, delivered from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.
The crowd fell silent and Francis bowed his head to recall the ‘many victims’ of the blaze.
Fire and smoke is seen on the IC8 motorway during a forest fire near Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal today
Francis visited the Portuguese shrine of Fatima last month.
Portugal’s prime minister has thanked the hundreds of firefighters combating the deadly forest fires.
Antonio Costa tweeted his ‘deepest regret for the victims … and a word of encouragement and strength for all who help combat this scourge.’
He added ‘I am so thankful to the firefighters and other professions who are giving their all for the security of each of us by fighting the fires.’