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Canadair CL-415 crashes in Portugal while fighting fire

Emergency services in Portugal said Tuesday they were making headway in controlling a major wildfire that killed 64 people in the central area of the country, but the welcome news came as another blaze nearby grew in size and amid reports that a water-dropping plane had crashed.


June 20, 2017
By The Canadian Press

An official with Portugal’s Air Accident Office said a Canadair water-dropping plane has crashed in central Portugal while fighting the wildfires. Maria Jose Andre told The Associated Press that the Civil Protection Agency, which is overseeing firefighting operations, informed her office that the plane had crashed.

Her office immediately sent a crash investigation team to the area but that she had no details about the plane, its crew or where the crash happened, she said.

Officials with the Portuguese government could not confirm the crash.

“We are investigating if [the reports] are true,” Secretary of State for the Interior Jorge Gomes said.

A spokesman for Portugal’s Civil Protection Agency also said he couldn’t confirm a crash.

All 13 planes hired by the agency to help fight the blazes were accounted for on Tuesday evening, Vitor Vaz Pinto said.

But 30 water-dropping aircraft were engaged in battling the blazes, some operating under bilateral agreements with the Portuguese government and others as part of a European Union co-operation agreement.

Vaz Pinto told a briefing for journalists on Tuesday: “I can’t confirm or deny that any aircraft are missing.”

Planes from Spain, France, Italy and Morocco are among those helping to fight the fires. All of those countries in the past have purchased Canadair CL-415 water bombers, but a Spanish official denied one of their planes had crashed.

A reporter for a Portuguese public broadcaster said he heard a loud explosion in hills about 10 kilometres from the region where firefighters are battling a fatal wildfire and a water-dropping airplane reportedly crashed.

Antena 1 public radio reporter Pedro Sa Guerra said there was thick smoke over the area and that a local woman told him she saw a plane crash in a fireball on Tuesday.

The Civil Protection Agency said about 1,200 firefighters and nine water-dropping aircraft were fighting the deadly wildfire in Pedrogao Grande, which was raging for a third consecutive day about 150 kilometres north of Lisbon. Officials said the blaze was mostly contained, though still burning fiercely.

Some firefighting resources were being diverted to Gois, about 20 kilometres from Pedrogao Grande, where almost 800 firefighters and four planes were battling the flames. Commander Vitor Vaz Pinto told reporters said the Gois wildfire was “very fast and very explosive” and had forced the evacuation of 11 hill villages.

Temperatures forecast to reach 43 C, gusting winds and bone-dry woodland were fuelling the blazes, Vaz Pinto said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Antonio Costa ordered an investigation into what happened on Saturday night when the deaths occurred, 47 of them on a road as people fled the flames.

Costa’s order asked three questions: whether extreme weather could explain the scale of the disaster, why emergency services communications at times didn’t work, and why the road where the deaths occurred was not closed.