'Criminal hand' started Portugal fires - fire chief

A French Civil Security "Canadair CL-415" firefighting plane drops water over a blaze in Cadafaz, Gois region, central Portugal, 21 June 2017 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Water-bombing planes from Portugal and neighbouring countries have been trying to finally extinguish the fires burning since Saturday

A "criminal hand" may have been behind the deadly wildfires that have raged through central Portugal, a firefighting leader has said.

Jaime Marta Soares said he believed the lightning strike blamed for igniting the fire came two hours after it broke out, and an investigation was needed.

Sixty-four people were killed, and more than 200 people are reported injured.

Questions have been raised about the speed of response and Portugal's state of preparedness.

Many people died trying to escape on route N-236, which local people have said should have been sealed off by authorities.

On Wednesday, government ministers and officials joined a minute's silence for the victims of Portugal's deadliest wildfire, which began at Pedrogão Grande on Saturday.

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"I am convinced that the thunderstorm was much later than the start of the fire, and the fire was very large when it started," Mr Marta Soares told local media.

He said he believed the fire had been deliberately started, and called for a "scientifically based study" to try to establish the truth.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The government, deputies and officials remembered the victims of Portugal's deadliest forest fires during a minute's silence on Wednesday
Image copyright AFP
Image caption There have been questions both about Portugal's strategic preparedness for wildfires and its emergency response

On Tuesday night, the authorities evacuated more villages around Gois, to the north of Pedrogão Grande, as wildfires which appeared to be under control flared up again.

But on Wednesday, the regional head of the civil protection services told reporters that 95% of the fire had been put out.

"This is great progress," Vitor Vaz Pinto told journalists, according to AFP news agency.

Some 1,200 firefighters are still dousing the flames a day after the first funerals of the victims on Tuesday.

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