Former Algarve university boss to head inquiry into Pedrógão Grande’s killer fires

The independent technical commission convened to analyse the fires that devastated central Portugal last month, killing at least 64 people, is to be led by former dean of the university of the Algarve João Guerreiro.

As this news emerged, queries over the official death count in the fires were sweeping through social media – as well as criticism that not enough has been done to help the hundreds of people whose lives have been devastated.

A bit like the hideous blaze of Grenfell Tower, the words ‘Pedrógão Grande’ are now synonymous in Portugal with a tragedy tinged with suspicion.

There are even doubts over the value of aid “promised” by Brussels, with tabloid Correio da Manhã reporting this (Wednesday) morning that Portugal hasn’t filed a request yet with the European Commission’s solidarity fund.

But at least in this case, the inquiry set up is being presented as ‘independent’.

Says Lusa, the members of the commission “cannot solicit or receive instructions from parliament, the government or any other public or private entity”.

The inquiry will run for two months, “to arrive at conclusions which could be extended to October”.

Accompanying Guerreiro on the fact-finding mission will be specialist in nature conservation Carlos Fonseca (University of Aveiro), agricultural policies expert Edelmiro Lopez Iglesias (University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain), researcher Paulo Fernandes – attached to the forestry sciences and landscape architecture department of Trás-os-Montes university – and António Salgueiro, an engineer with 20 years experience in wildfire management and the use of ‘controlled fire’ in the forestry sector.

The commission will also include systems technologies engineer Professor Richard de Neufville, as well as MPs.

Rubber-stamping the diploma paving the way for the inquiry, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa described it as “without juridical or political precedent” in the history of Portuguese democracy.

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