'Everybody is crying': Local Portuguese community mourning fire victims
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Monday, June 19, 2017 5:11PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 19, 2017 6:24PM EDT
The extent of the devastation from a series of wildfires in Portugal is staggering.
By Monday afternoon, the death toll had reached 63 and the country was in the midst of a three-day period of national mourning.
Thousands of firefighters, including reinforcements from other European nations, had descended on the town of Pedrogao Grande to help battle the deadliest fires on record in Portugal’s history.
Images from the fire zone show what are essentially walls of smoke and flame towering over the town. Many of the deaths occurred as people were attempting to drive to safety.
Like most members of Waterloo Region’s Portuguese community, Tony Lopo has been following news of the fires closely.
He grew up in a village near Pedrogao Grande, spending the first 15 years of his life there.
“It’s pretty well gone,” he says of his hometown.
Some of Lopo’s relatives were affected by the fire. One brother lost a significant amount of farmland, although his home survived the flames.
“He’s happy that he’s alive and he didn’t lose his home, but the rest is all gone,” Lopo says.
Lopo says his brother has told him that the heavy smoke has left Pedrogao Grande dealing with so much dark smoke that “it looks like it’s night all the time.”
Antonio Brito, who left Portugal for Waterloo Region in 1980 and hosts a local radio show for the Portuguese community, says the devastation is unlike anything the country has seen before.
“We can’t do much against nature,” he says.
“Everybody is crying.”
Lopo says he wishes something could be done to bring “a lot of hope and a lot of attention” to the surviving victims.
“Some of those people – they lost pretty well everything,” he says.
The fire is believed to have started with a lightning strike, and been fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions.
With reporting by Marc Venema and files from The Associated Press