Twelve people survived one of Portugal’s deadliest fires by seeking refuge in a water tank after access to their village was cut off by the blaze.
The residents, including a disabled 95-year-old woman, spent more than six hours in the tank as the fire prevented them from being rescued.
“If it wasn’t for this, we would all have died,” one of the survivors said.
The fires in central Portugal left 62 dead, many of them inside their cars as they tried to flee.
Numerous fires were still raging on several fronts, stretching Portugal’s civil protection force to its limits. Outbreaks were reported in two more central regions, Castelo Branco and Coimbra.
Maria do Céu Silva was hailed as a hero after using her house’s water tank to rescue the residents of Nodeirinho, next to the IC8 motorway, which was badly hit by the fire.
The idea, Ms Silva said, came while she tried to save her disabled mother.
“My husband told me to put her in the van but she couldn’t get in by herself so she told me: ‘Let me die on the floor’,” she told Correio da Manhã newspaper.
“With the help of my son we managed to take her here.” Her 81-year-old father was also taken to the tank.
The winds were so strong, she said, that roofs of the houses were blown out. “It was like a horror movie”.
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We found ourselves stranded in a village called Mó Grande, just off of the IC8 motorway; ourselves and others were directed there by an officer from the IC8.
As we drove up the mountain road you could see the flames jumping across from one side of the valley to the other. The accompanying wind threw branches at the car but you couldn’t stop, you could feel the heat.
Eventually we reached the small village at a crossroads surrounded by fire. Locals and ourselves were crying, overwhelmed by the heat and speed of the fire. It was dark, so dark, among the flames.
The devastation was indescribable. People, bewildered, remains of homes burning uncontrollably, concrete posts exploding over roads.
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Next to the village, 30 bodies were found inside cars, with another 17 next to the vehicles, on one road leading on to the IC8.
Maria de Fátima Nunes and her husband drove along the motorway when their car was hit by the fire.
“My husband was burned on the arm. I got burned too, on the chest,” she told SIC Notícias.
“There was fire at the top of the pine trees and they were falling over the cars. The fire was coming from all sides. The cars crashed into each other trying to escape.”
The couple who were in the car behind them, she said, did not manage to escape and died. “I shouted for the woman to get out of the car, but she didn’t. Her husband did, but died there.”
The fires began on Saturday during an intense heatwave and rainless thunderstorms, with temperatures of more than 40C (104F) in some areas.
Police say lightning striking a tree may have caused the fire. Although some rain fell on Monday, the situation was described by civil protection officials as worrying.
Portugal forest fire: 12 survive by hiding in a water tank