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Fire kills eight, injures dozens at Portugal community centre

Firefighters and rescue workers gather outside a local community centre where a fire killed eight people and injured 50 others in Vila Nova da Rainha in Tondela, northern Portugal late on January 13, 2018

Fire ripped through a community centre in northern Portugal, where dozens of people were watching a weekend football match, killing at least eight and injuring many more, officials said Sunday.

Some 38 people were injured, including nine with severe burns who were taken by helicopter to hospitals in Porto and Lisbon, emergency response chief Carlos Pereira told AFP.

Those seriously injured were all over 50 with the exception of one 15-year-old. No information was available on the identities of those who died.

"It happened very fast. The whole floor was in flames within five minutes," survivor Julio Dias told the daily Publico.

"In the panic, a lot of people massed against the doors and it was impossible to open them."

He said a few minutes later rescue workers forced open a door using ropes tied to an all-terrain vehicle.

Officials said the fire broke out at around 9 pm (2100 GMT) Saturday on the first floor of the building in a village near Tondela, which lies between the northern towns of Coimbra and Viseu.

Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited the scene on Sunday and spoke with local residents gathered outside the village chapel.

"It's another heartbreak, another shock and another drama on top of the tragedy in October," he told the crowd, referring to a series of deadly wildfires which hit the region last year.

"But I believe in your strength, in your resistance to overcome this new challenge. Your pain is the pain of all of Portugal."

Local mayor Jose Antonio Jesus said the fire was caused by the explosion of a wood-burning stove, which let off a "large quantity" of carbon monoxide.

Many of those injured had taken part in an amateur card tournament, playing Sueca a popular game in Portugal, and were watching a football match.

Witness Antonio Carvalho told the Portuguese newspaper Correio de Manha that he smashed windows in an attempt to help people escape the building.

He described a scene of "general panic, with people on the ground, an enormous amount of smoke and total darkness".

The Tondela fire service said the blaze was brought under control after an hour.