Netherlands offers Portugal support after devastating forest fires leave 62 dead

Firefighters' gear
Firefighters gear. (Wikimedia Commons)

Portugal can count on the Netherlands for help in dealing with the aftermath of massive forest fires that killed 62 people in the country over the weekend, Minister Bert Koenders of Foreign Affairs said to his Portuguese counterpart Augusto Santos Silva. Both he and Prime Minister Mark Rutte expressed their condolences and support for the victims and their families, they said on Twitter.

The fire started in the Pedrogao Grande region on Saturday afternoon, presumably after a lightning strike, according to NOS. Drought, high temperatures and strong winds meant that the fire spread very quickly. Most of the fatalities fell among local residents who tried to flee the area by car, but were caught by the fast moving fire. 

Some 1,000 firefighters worked day and night to try and get the fire under control. France, Spain and Italy sent extinguishing aircraft to give aid. On Sunday some 156 forest fires were reported. But most of them were quickly extinguished, according to NOS.

Dutch man Pieter van Nuenen and his wife were at their vacation home in Pedrogao Grande this weekend. They were having lunch with friends in a nearby town when the fire started. "When we drove back to our house, we saw plumes of smoke in the distance. We see them almost every summer, but these were remarkably close", he said to NOS.

Around 4:00 p.m., it was dark as night around their home. "There was smoke everywhere, it rained ash. We then realized: this is not good." Van Nuenen, his wife and their friends packed a backpack with their passports, wallets, a laptop and phones, got into a car and drove higher up the mountain. "We saw fire everywhere." 

Many local residents were already gathered atop the mountain. "It was total chaos. You have no internet, there is no light, so you can't follow what's going on. We so badly wanted to know how our house was." At one point a few young men in a jeep told him his roof is on fire. They went back and did what they could with a hose, but quickly realized it was too dangerous to stick around.

After a night in a hotel, Van Nuenen went to check on his house on Sunday morning. "It's completely unreal. Up to half a meter before the gate, everything is black and gone. Our white house is still standing, with only a hole in the roof", he said to the broadcaster. "It looks like a black desert here. Everything smolders, smoke plumes everywhere."