'Hurricane of flames' ravages a Portuguese village

Ventosa (Portugal) (AFP) - Fernando Lourenco, 71. his wife and sister were asleep in their home in western Portugal when the flames engulfed the hillsides and descended into the village, The retirees never woke up.

'Hurricane of flames' ravages a Portuguese village

'Hurricane of flames' ravages a Portuguese village

"I was at one end of the village battling the flames and in two minutes the wall of fire had already reached the other side," said Ricardo Lopes. a 37-year-old teacher, his eyes red from the fumes and fatigue.

He had arrived at Vila Nova de Ventosa nestled between two hills, where his parents live, around the same time as the fierce blaze fanned by strong wind gusts.

It was shortly after midnight.

"There was a hurricane of flames, there's no words to describe it," said villager Jose Constantino.

Another local resident likened the spreading fire to a volcano. "I was sleeping and all of a sudden, I was awakened by an enormous noise, you could say it was like a volcano which took up everything in its path," said Celestino Ribeiro, among those who escaped the catastrophe.

Lourenco, his wife Laurinda, 65, and his sister Arminda, 76, who were sound asleep, never had a chance.

"The fire came from all sides, it was chaos, and unfortunately their house was one of the first ones to be touched by the flames. They never had the time to escape," explained Maria Idalina, a retired housekeeper.

At least 36 people have been killed by Portugal's fires.

Despite their efforts, the villagers could not stop the flames from destroying stone houses and devouring barns, livestock and crops.

"When the flames arrived in the streets, we were powerless, there was nothing you could do for those who had remained trapped in their homes, " said Lopes.

"For four hours we were alone, without help from firefighters, fortunately rescuers arrived because we didn't have any more water."

Under a cloud of smoke hiding the sun, Lopes and other residents now make trips by car to neighbouring areas to replenish the supply of water.

Sitting with his crutches near the village's little chapel, Jose Ribeiro , 90, has lived here all his life.

"We've already had several fires including a big one in 2000, but it never reached the village," he said.

If it weren't for his fellow villagers, "doing what they could," he added, "it would have been even more tragic."

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