Firefighters in Portugal say they are close to bringing the major wildfire that killed 64 people under control. More than 1,000 firefighters and nine water-dropping aircraft are battling the blaze in Pedrogao Grande, which is raging for a third consecutive day.

Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A firefighting plane dumps water on a forest fire in MendeiraMiguel Vidal/Reuters
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Members of the National Republican Guard and firefighters try to extinguish a fire in a forest near Pedrogao Grande, in Leiria districtPablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Residents watch as a plane battles a fire from the air near Pedrogao GrandePablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

The most devastating Portuguese forest fire in decades has left locals struggling to understand how so many people died as they tried to flee the inferno. Locals and experts alike talk of an unholy combination of extremely hot weather, an unusually dry year and ferocious winds that created a sort of hurricane of fire. Many of those who died burnt in their cars as they fled.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway. Many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had abandoned their vehicles in panic. A firefighter who died had been helping people out of their cars when he was badly burned.

Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Molten metal is seen after a van was burned in a forest fire outside Pedrogao GrandeMiguel Vidal/Reuters
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A house destroyed by fire is seen near Pampilhosa da Serra, in Coimbra districtPablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A dead deer lies on the roadside in an area affected by a wildfire at Vila Pedro, Figueiro dos VinhosPatricia de Melo Moreira/AFP
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
The wreckage of a garage in an area devastated by a wildfire close to the village of Figueiro dos VinhosMiguel Riopa/AFP
Portugal fires
A burned out car is seen during a forest fire in Castanheira de PeraMiguel Vidal/Reuters

Some locals blame the fires on the gradual replacement of pine and oak forests by highly combustible eucalyptus, which has been grown in this region by the paper and pulp industry. Others say the fires flared up so quickly because landowners hadn't obeyed the law and cleared their plots of undergrowth.

The deaths, the most in memory caused by forest fires in Portugal, have also shown shortcomings in communication systems to evacuate people from villages. Other countries prone to forest fires have systems in place to warn people of danger. Australia, for example, revised its warning system after fires killed 173 people in 2009, and now uses text messages and emergency broadcasts to warn people.

Drone footage shows aftermath of Portugal's deadliest forest fire Reuters
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A woman reacts as she sees flames approaching her house in a village near Pedrogao GrandePablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Locals use buckets trying to extinguish a wildfire in Atalaia Fundeira near Cernache do BonjardinFrancisco Leong/AFP
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Firefighters work to save a house from a forest fire in Carvalho, near GoisRafael Marchante/Reuters
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A firefighter plane tackles a blaze near Pedrogao GrandePablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Aerial view of a forest fire is seen from the cabin of a Spanish 43 Grupo fire fighting plane near Pedrogao GrandeSpanish Defence Ministry-Spanish Air Force/Reuters
Portugal fires
A helicopter drops water over a wildfire in Carvalho, near Pampilhosa da SerraMiguel Riopa/AFP
Portugal fires
A water-dropping helicopter flies over a wildfire in Carvalho, near Pampilhosa da SerraMiguel Riopa/AFP
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Firefighters from the National Republican Guard GIPS try to control a fire in a forest near Pedrogao GrandePablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
A firefighter battles a fire in small village near Pedrogao GrandePablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Portugal fires Pedrogao Grande
Firefighters and soldiers work to extinguish a wildfire in Carvalho, near Pampilhosa da SerraMiguel Riopa/AFP

Government officials say Prime Minister Antonio Costa has ordered an investigation into what happened on Saturday night (17 June) when the deaths occurred.