At least 24 killed as fierce wildfire rages in Portugal

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(CNN) — Twenty-four people were killed in Portugal in what officials are calling the country's "greatest wildfire tragedy of recent years."

On Saturday, a wildfire spread onto the town of Pedrogao Grande, about 120 miles north of Lisbon. The victims were caught in the fire as they tried to flee, officials said.

"Many cars could not get out and people burned to death inside their cars," Portuguese Interior Minister Jorge Gomes told CNN affiliate TVI.

At least three of the victims died from smoke inhalation inside the town while 16 others died trapped in their cars.

The municipality's president, Valdemar Alves, said there were areas "completely surrounded" by the blaze and not enough firefighters to battle the flames.

"The violence of this fire was such that I am certain many people have died," Alves told TVI. "I am shocked with this death toll."

Authorities said the number of victims may rise as firefighters inspect the villages affected.

Portugal's president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, offered a word of comfort to those still battling the fires and said that "all that could be done was done."

On Friday, Portugal's National Authority for Public Safety issued wildfire alerts due to high temperatures, low humidity, and strong winds.

Last year, thousands of firefighters battled at at least 12 huge fires across the country.

Three people were killed and over 1,000 evacuated in the Portuguese island of Madeira due to the fierce wildfires a year ago.

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