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Portugal Contains 2nd Wildfire, 64 Dead06/22 06:13

   LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Official reports into Portugal's deadliest natural 
disaster in decades have described freak conditions that drove the wildfire 
that killed 64 people, while Portuguese authorities said Thursday they have 
contained a second fire that raged for five days close by.

   More than 2,000 firefighters and some two dozen water-dropping aircraft 
fought the two fires for days and nights amid strong winds and temperatures 
above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) as the country's annual wildfire season 
started earlier than usual. Traditionally, emergency services gear up for major 
fires from July 1.

   Several official investigations are assessing the disaster response, 
including why 47 of the deaths on Saturday night occurred on a country road as 
people fleeing the flames in their cars were engulfed by the blaze.

   In an initial report at the request of Prime Minister Antonio Costa, the 
Portuguese weather agency IPMA said the fire spread so quickly because of 
"exceptional" conditions.

   The agency blamed the dynamics of the wildfire itself and atmospheric 
instability at the time, which created a "downburst" --- an unusually strong 
wind that blows down toward the ground and sprays embers across a broad area.

   On Monday, the head of the national judicial police said a lightning strike 
is believed to have sparked the blaze after investigators found a tree that was 
struck.

   The weather agency's report was posted on the government's website late 
Wednesday along with another report from the National Republic Guard, known by 
its acronym GNR, a paramilitary police force that patrols rural areas.

   Responding to questions why the EN 236-1 road where the deaths occurred was 
not closed, the GNR report said its officers had "no indication or information" 
of risk there. It added that there were "difficulties with (all) 
communications" at the time --- presumably a reference to both radio and 
cellphone links.

   It said there were "freakish" weather conditions, with the fire suddenly 
spreading very quickly, that "took everyone by surprise."

   Amid demands for explanations Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa, 
who oversees the emergency services, said it would be "cowardly" for her to 
resign. She told public broadcaster RTP in an interview that she intends to 
sort out what went wrong and fix it.

   The Civil Protection Agency said Thursday that a wildfire at Gois, about 150 
kilometers (95 miles) north of Lisbon, was finally under control. The deadly 
blaze at Pedrogao Grande, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, was contained 
Wednesday.

   Hundreds of firefighters remain on standby at both fires to prevent them 
from reigniting. Officials said the two blazes blackened about 40,000 hectares 
(99,000 acres) of woodland.


(KA)

 
 
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