(PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal) — Images are coming out of Portugal of the aftermath of a fire that scorched a forested area in the center of the country over the weekend, leaving at least 61 dead, according to a spokesperson at Portugal’s interior ministry.
Of the victims, 59 people were killed from flames or smoke inhalation and two more were killed in a road accident trying to flee the blaze, according the spokesperson Aicha El Hammar.
The number of dead, which includes at least four children, is expected to rise, El Hammar said.
Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Costa, said there had been 156 fires across the country over the weekend, with 11 still active, including two blazes that are “particularly problematic.”
One of multiple fires that spread in Portugal sent flames sweeping across a road, which reached motorists who became trapped in their cars. That blaze led to the bulk of the damage and fatalities, Costa told reporters on Sunday. Costa said everyone who died was on a road or next to it.
Forty-seven bodies were discovered in or adjacent to their cars, El Hammar told ABC News.
“This tragic situation took place in only one of the fires, particularly at a road next to it,” Costa told reporters. “I don’t want to talk yet about the cause of the fire because we are facing the greatest tragedy of human lives. So what we must do now is to calmly provide all the resources to fight the fires.”
Costa also took to Twitter to thank rescue workers for their efforts to control the blaze, and send condolences to the victims who died.
The Iberian peninsula is currently sweltering under a severe heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 104 degrees in some regions.
On Sunday, Pope Francis led thousands of people in silent prayer for the victims of what he called the “devastating fire,” while the Portuguese football team offered its “deepest sympathies to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the fires.”
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