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A raging forest fire killed dozens in Portugal

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At least 61 people have been killed in a raging forest fire in central Portugal, officials said Sunday. 

Portugal’s prime minister, António Costa, described the blaze as "the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires." He declared three days of national mourning in response to the massive fire.

WATCH  | Sérgio Fonseca captured this view Sunday afternoon of Figueiró dos Vinhos, one of the towns affected by the wildfire in Portugal (via CNN). 

Investigators found a tree that was hit during a "dry thunderstorm" and said a lightning strike in  Pedrogao Grande, which is about 95 miles from the country's capital, likely sparked the blaze Saturday. 

A "dry thunderstorm" is a storm that produces thunder and lightning, but precipitation evaporates before reaching the ground because of high temperatures. Portugal and other southern European countries are prone to forest fires in the dry summer months. 

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Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Police investigators stand by a burnt car on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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A policeman stands by a covered body on a dirt road outside Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed more than 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road, in what the prime minister on Sunday called "the biggest tragedy of human life that we have known in years". (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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A burnt truck lies on a dirt road close to the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Burnt cars block the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Burnt trees stand by the side of a road approaching Pedrogao Grande, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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Firefighters of the Portuguese National Republican Guard work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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A burnt cars lies on the road between Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, central Portugal, Sunday, June 18 2017. Raging forest fires in central Portugal killed at least 50 people, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),
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A man on the balcony of a house looks up at a forest fire raging on a hillside above the village of Avelar, central Portugal, before sunrise Sunday, June 18, 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, at sunrise Sunday, June 18 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road Saturday evening. (AP Photo/Armando Franca),

Hundreds of firefighters and 160 trucks were dispatched later that evening to put out the fire. Sunday morning Spain sent two water-bombing planes and France dispatched three to assist Portuguese firefighters on the ground, according to The Guardian


"The dimensions of this fire have caused a human tragedy beyond any in our memory," Costa told reporters when he arrived at the scene Sunday. "Something extraordinary has taken place and we have to wait for technicians to properly determine its causes."

He added that the death toll is likely to rise as officials begin searching isolated homes for more bodies. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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