Killer fire families “consider suing State” over Pedrógão Grande’s ‘litany of failings’

With the number of victims ‘up’ (albeit only by one), families of the men, women and children killed in the fires of Pedrógão Grande in June are reported to be considering suing the State.

Expresso attended the meeting of the group whose founder Nádia Piazza described the form in which victims have been treated as “surreal”.

“In both practical and health terms, people are on their own”, she said, citing incidences where survivors have had to seek out psychological support on their own, only to find themselves charged for it.

Other criticisms centre on the refusal of the government to issue the official list of the names of Pedrógão Grande’s victims.

This has fuelled suspicions that there were, in fact, more than 64 people killed – 47 of them on the chillingly-dubbed ‘road of death’ (click here).

Over the weekend, tabloid Correio da Manhã revealed victim number 65 – a 71-year-old woman run over by a driver “trying to flee the flames”.

People told the paper that they have no doubt Alzira Carvalho Costa was killed as a result of the panic that followed the outbreak of the fires, but her death was treated as a road traffic fatality and so not included in the official ‘death tally’.

CM adds that local sources point to as many as 80 people having died in the blazes. This ties in with reports over social media from people who made inquiries at funeral parlours.

Piazza told journalists that she hopes the official list will be published this week, while Civil Protection continues to insist that the figure of 64 is the right one, and that all other deaths cited by sources “do not fit the defined criteria”.

As the centre of the country continues to be ravaged by wildfires, smoke has been seen travelling all the way to the Algarve, leading firewatchers here to fear the worst.

This morning, local firewatch website Alerta de Incéndio Florestal put out a notice, saying: “There are currently no fires in the Algarve. The smoke everyone can see is being blown down by the wind from up north”.

Meantime, Jaime Marta Soares, president of firefighters’ organisation Liga dos Bombeiros, has explained why, in his opinion, the situation this year is so bad.

Our forests are “getting worse and worse” in terms of how they are managed, transforming into “authentic jungles” allowing fires to spread rapidly, he told tabloid Correio da Manhã.

Temperatures too have been high, with winds behind them, and air support – which should be ready with water the minute fires are called in – takes “too long to arrive”.

“In my opinion the first helicopter to go in (to any fire) should be taking water with it to drop”, Soares explained. “What happens instead is that the first one takes a team of sappers, and only later does it start the work of dropping water”.

Referring to the much-published “Lei da Rolha”, literally ‘law of the cork’ – meaning firefighters have been officially warned against speaking freely to the press – Soares said he cannot see any reason for it other than to “try and cover the incompetence of a lot of people who occupy the top of the pyramid of the civil protection system”.

As for the families’ taking out legal action against the State, Expresso stresses this is, for now, only a ‘possibility’.

Nádia Piazza confirmed it was something the group ‘Associação das Vítimas do Incêndio de Pedrógão Grande’ will have to think about, but over time, and “com calma” (calmly).

First, locals want to see and accompany the official investigation currently underway.

“We need to let people on the ground do their work”, she told the paper in an emotional interview in which it was revealed that donations that survivors badly need to help rebuild their lives are “just not getting through”.

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Photo: LUSA