Firefighters struggled to gain complete control over Portugal's deadliest forest fire on record which killed 64 people at the weekend, amid confusion over whether a plane involved in the operation to douse the flames had crashed.

Victor Vaz Pinto, commander of the civil protection agency, said a helicopter had been sent out to search for the aircraft but had found nothing.
           
"I have no information that any airplane working for civil protection has crashed," he said, adding that an explosion heard by many in the vicinity may have been caused by abandoned gas bottles.
           
Local media had earlier reported a Canadair plane had crashed.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa has questioned the effectiveness of an emergency response system.

Authorities said the fire in the mountainous region of Pedrogao Grande, which killed many people in their cars as they tried to flee the blaze, was 85% under control after more than 1,000 firefighters worked overnight.

About 160 other people were injured in the blaze, about 200km northeast of the capital Lisbon, and which Mr Costa said at the weekend was the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

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Meanwhile, a separate fire, in the village of Gois further north, was very worrying, a spokesman for the civil protection agency, said.

With reports and witnesses' accounts speaking of a slow response by the emergency services to the fire, which struck rapidly on Saturday, Mr Costa asked authorities for a report on what went wrong.

"Why, for how long and what impact was there on the planning, command and execution of operations if your very systems were not working? What was done to establish alternative connections?" Mr Costa asked of the emergency services, according to the state news agency Lusa.

Mr Costa, who sought an explanation from the national civil protection agency, the weather institute and police, also asked why a road, where many people died in their cars, had not been closed off.

Data from the European Forest Fire Information System showed that an area of more than 30,000 hectares had burned in the past seven days, making it the largest ever fire in Portugal.

The area burnt is nearly three times bigger than Lisbon and means the relatively small country accounts for more than a quarter of all fires in the entire European Union this year, the data showed.

Officials have said communications were knocked out in the initial fierce fires when most people died, affecting mobile and fixed telephone networks.