SPANISH hydroplanes and helicopters have been brought in to deal with a massive forest fire in central Portugal which has so far claimed 61 lives.
The devastating inferno started in Pedrógão Grande, in the dead centre of the country and south-east of Coimbra, and many of those who died were in their cars.
Around 30 of the dead had entered the main highway between Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera in the direction of the blaze, which was several kilometres away at the time, and then become trapped on the road and died from smoke inhalation, or even from the flames, explained chairman of the League of Firefighters in Portugal, Jaime Marta Soares.
Entire families have perished in their cars.
Others who died were trapped in their homes and unable to escape the wall of fire surrounding them.
Another 54 have been injured, of whom five – four firefighters and a child – are in a critical condition, and several homes have been completely destroyed.
The inferno has wiped out several hamlets in the vicinity of Pedrógão Grande.
Two planes from Spain and several others from France joined helicopters, planes and fire engines from Setúbal, Coimbra and Lisbon – 687 vehicles in total.
Forensics, police and counsellors are also on the scene to attend to survivors, many of whom have lost family members and friends.
Prime minister António Costa calls it 'the worst human tragedy' in living history in the country.
He insists there is 'no incompetence, no lack of capability, resources or responses', despite criticism from nearer the scene.
The Portuguese government has declared three days of official mourning.
According to authorities in Spain's western neighbour, the cause of the fire is unknown and it is not clear how it spread so quickly.
It is likely to take days or even weeks to put out, since it is said to be 'impossible to control'.
The number of fatalities is expected to rise in the next few hours.