No pomp or circumstance for the memorial to 114 fatalities in the deadly wildfires of 2017. Image: IP
No pomp or circumstance for the memorial to 114 fatalities in the deadly wildfires of 2017. Image: IP

Disbelief as memorial to victims of Pedrógão Grande fires opens “without ceremony”

This year sees State turn page on memories of that dreadful day

The Association of Victims of the Fire of Pedrógão Grande cannot believe the tragedy that visited their community has seemingly been so quickly ‘forgotten’.

Exactly six years on (tomorrow is the 6th anniversary of one of the most surreal fires in Portugal’s living memory) – and at a point when the memorial to the 66 victims who lost their lives is finally complete – president Dina Duarte received a phone call from Infraestruturas de Portugal (IP) telling her “the monument is open to the public…”

There is to be no ‘official inauguration’, no press release, no publicity at all.

“This is the respect that the dead of 2017 deserve from the authorities of this country”, Dina Duarte told Diário de Notícias. “I think it is telling”.

In this dearth of collective interest, locals will be marking the date as they have for the last six years: there will be a special mass on Saturday, and the Memory Lane cycling initiative, which covers 66 kms (one for every victim who died).

The memorial meantime, designed by Eduardo Souto Moura, stands at the edge of that terrible road (the EN 236) on which the majority of victims died when a heat phenomenon known as downburst literally set them and their cars alight.

Construction by IP began over two years ago, costing around €1.8 million euros. It includes “a lake, with an area of around 2,500 sq metres, fed by a channel 60 metres long, bordered by a strip of plants consisting of white lilies, lilies and buttercups”, a source from IP’s Communication and Image department tells DN. The structure also includes, “as a fundamental piece, a wall with the inscription of the name of each of the 115 people who died in the forest fires of June (in Pedrógão) and October 2017 (in Pampilhosa da Serra and surrounding boroughs) ”.

DN’s report on this year’s achingly sad lack of acknowledgement takes no prisoners, concluding with these words: “When the fire took lives and decimated the entire region, those in power came out to guarantee that, rather than rebuild it from the ashes, the interior of the country would never be forgotten. In the first years, the visit of the President of the Republic (above all) and some members of the Government was repeated. But six years seems a long time. It’s the first time that the day will not be remembered with any official visit.

This is a way for those in power not to be confronted with the promises that have not been fulfilled“, Dina Duarte considers. “We have even come to the conclusion that Portugal is just Lisbon and we are landscape. Portugal is TAP and is a whole set of circumstances other than the rest of the country. It’s not just here. We also question what is being done in the Serra da Estrela, for example, and in other places. It’s interesting to see if anything is being done. Because here, six years later, very little has been done”.

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