At least 36 people died in Portugal Sunday from the 524 wildfires which sparked and blazed through the country in what is being called the “worst day of the year” for fires.
Thousands of firefighters continue to battle 145 wildfires, 32 are still considered serious, while medical staff attends to the more than 50 people injured from the flames which tore along the Portuguese border, reports Patricia Gaspar, a civil protection service spokeswoman.
Recent local media reports state the death toll has risen to 38, although civil protection officials have not confirmed the new total.
Widespread panic from victims fleeing rapidly spreading flames has also contributed to the numbers of casualties. According to a local paper, Jornal de Noticias, a head-on collision from a man speeding away from a fire, led to the death of a 19-year-old pregnant woman. The man is reported to be one of 15 people in critical condition in hospitals around the country.
To the north of Portugal, over 100 fires whipping across the Spanish region of Galicia killed four Sunday, despite a drizzling rainfall. Early Monday morning, 32 of the wildfires still raging across the region were categorized as “critical” and 17 considered a threat to nearby towns.
“I hope there are no more deaths,” Prime Minister Antonio Costa said as he exited an early morning emergency meeting with Portugal’s Civil Protection authority Monday.
Officials hope the death toll will not rise above 64 fatalities who fell victim to June’s wildfires. An investigation into the fires reported last week, the high fatality rate was in part due to the local authorities' failure to evacuate residents in time.
"Surely, these situations will repeat themselves," Costa said regarding the wildfires and Portugal's future preventative strategies. "There are no magic solutions and we cannot deceive the Portuguese people about a problem that has been building up over decades.”
June’s tragic fire consumed around 72,000 acres of land which firefighters have alleged were initiated intentionally.
So far, the combination of Portugal’s unusually high temperatures, as well as fanning from strong winds from Hurricane Ophelia and October’s drought has led to record-breaking results, with Sunday’s 524 wildfires registering as the highest number of fires to erupt in the course of a day in over ten years.
According to Jorge Gomes, Portugal’s secretary of state of internal administration, the majority of the country’s fires were set deliberately.
As over 6,000 emergency personnel continue to struggle to control the raging flames, Portugal has called for help from its European allies and Morocco.