Portugal gains upper hand over wildfire that killed 64

Burnt cars on a road after the wildfire in Figueiro dos Vinhos Portugal

Portugal's national route 236 was transformed into a road of hell as the ferocious blaze ripped through the wooded countryside around the epicentre in Pedrogao Grande.

The forest fires broke out on June 17 in Pedrogao Grande city, about 200km southeast of Lisbon, killing at least 62 people and injuring more than 60 others, five of them seriously.

Local news reports describe it as the worst fire in recent decades; the government has declared three days of mourning and sent two battalions of soldiers to assist some 2,000 firefighters.

That left firefighters - backed by fire engines and bulldozers - to do the heavy work on the ground in temperatures that approached 40C (104F).

Officials have said that the high temperatures have made it hard to bring the fire under control.

"Everything burnt very quickly given the strong winds".

Villages dot the landscape, much of it now scorched. "We were only able to save two goats", she said. "Here it was up to God and the people". In the small village of Atalaia Fundeira, a big cloud of smoke billowed from a scrub of land as villagers including 76-year-old Palmira Coelho rushed out with buckets of water and a tractor arrived with a tank of water and hose.

A British man has told of his dramatic escape from a wildfire that killed 62 people in central Portugal.

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Daniel Starling had jumped in his auto and raced away as the flames bore down. "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".

Mr Starling said he drove around fallen trees and even off the road in his quest to reach safety.

Water dousing of the tinder-dry area is continuing but one expert said there was still a lot of forest left which could go up in flames.

"I knew several of the victims". It was just flames over the vehicle and the family and me screaming.' He had to speed around trees that had fallen on the road and drive off-road before coming across a policeman. He finally came across a policeman at a junction, where he stopped.

"The family", Mr Starling said, "got out and they were kissing the auto". Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 62 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over roads Saturday evening.

Fire experts, meanwhile, pointed to a series of shortcomings in Portugal's strategy of tackling wildfires, even though the summer blazes have been happening for decades.

"In Portugal, the main factor in the scale of wildfires is the unbroken stretches of forest", Paulo Fernandes, a forest researcher at Portugal's Tras-os-Montes e Alto Douro University, said.

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