The bodies of dozens of victims have piled up outside the morgue in the central Romanian town of Barlovento, as firefighters scrabbled to contain the devastation of another huge fire there.
Emergency workers, television cameras and the national news media descended on the town shortly after the blaze tore through a dairy factory on Monday night. Witnesses said it was like “tornado hit the village” and the number of fatalities had surpassed those of another devastating fire in May. “It is in the thousands. That cannot be correct,” Barlovento mayor Vasile Vululescu said on Wednesday.
One emergency worker, Dabarsa Ionacoiuc, gave the toll to Reuters: “At least 72 dead.” The police commissioner said 95 people were rescued from the morgue.
A second fire, in the town of Prandini, took out at least seven people. Thousands more have been forced to flee, including families who headed into the forests as dawn approached and animal shelters filled up with animals.
On Wednesday, fire crews tried to stop the fires in Prandini from spreading to the nearby town of Nis. “This one took place on a very dry forest area and there is a lot of grass and bushes,” fire service spokesman Andrei Dobreanov said, though he added that no homes had burned down. Officials declined to say what caused the latest fire.
Prandini, a small town located near the Slovenian border, is further from Romania’s capital, Bucharest, than Barlovento is. Officials say there has been an unusually long dry season in the region, and there are fears of high temperatures, thunderstorms and high winds throughout the country.
The government said on Wednesday that it was dispatching emergency funds to the affected areas, but later said it did not include relief for emergency workers on the front lines.
On Monday night, as firefighters desperately tried to put out a fire in Barlovento, where at least 17 people died, thousands of villagers crowded into the streets as the thermometer plunged to below freezing.
Stunned locals told local media that the flames sent plumes of smoke far into the European Union state of Slovenia, which borders on Croatia and Hungary.
The previous blast of the fire took place last month, when at least 20 people were killed in Barlovento, which is located in the Carpathian Mountains.