Two Britons treated for burns after Portuguese forest fires

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Three days of national mourning have been declared in Portugal after at least 61 people were killed in forest fires.

Portugal's prime minister, António Costa, told reporters that this is "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires".

Media in Portugal said the fire is no closer to being contained despite about 600 firefighters working to put them out.

The European Union responded to a call for assistance by Portuguese authorities.

Huge clouds of smoke and red flames enveloped the forested Pedrogao Grande area some 150 kilometers (95 miles) northeast of the capital city Lisbon.

Eleven others died nearby as a wall of flame and dense black smoke tore through the forest.

"I knew several of the victims", said local resident Isabel Ferreira.

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"We have been able to determine that the origin of the fire was caused by dry thunderstorms".

"We escaped in time, me on the tractor and he with our van", Luisilda said.

Brandao said that "at 3:30 a.m.my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again".

Distressing footage broadcast on Portuguese TV yesterday showed a woman being led away by 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.

A Spanish firefighting aircraft is assisting and another is expected to arrive later on Sunday, while France is also sending three aircraft.

Hundreds of firefighters were still battling the flames on Sunday. "One of my colleagues lost her mother and her four-year-old girl as she could not get them out of the back of the vehicle", the 62-year-old said.

The prime minister said the emergency services acted as fast as they could but acknowledged that some of the efforts like alerting the population might have been hindered because the blaze had ruined phone lines and communications towers.

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The forest fires are the worst to have hit Portugal since 1966, when 25 soldiers died fighting several blazes.

Temperatures in the area over the weekend were as high as 104 degrees.

Valdemar Alves, mayor of Pedrogao Grande, said: "This is a region that has had fires because of its forests, but we can not remember a tragedy of these proportions".

"We are most likely facing the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known", Costa said.

The death toll released by Portuguese Secretary of State for Internal Affairs Jorge Gomes has gradually climbed from the 19 initially announced on Saturday.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message published on Twitter: "Solidarity with Portugal, hit by awful fires". The "disproportionate loss of life" was a "new reality" that required "nerves of steel" to deal with as well as care and support for families affected, Mr Costa said.

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