With the number of people killed in Portuguese wildfires this year now topping 100, a new report has delivered yet another hammer blow to Civil Protection – the authority charged with coordinating the nation’s firefighting response.
The document delivered to the Ministry of Internal Administration today concludes that Portugal’s emergency system is just not prepared for situations where lots of people “are affected, hurt or dead”.
It is one of three separate inquiries launched following the deadly fires of Pedrógão Grande in June – and it insists that 65 people died in Pedrógão, not 64 – the number authorities stuck to despite a wealth of information to the contrary.
Compiled by a team of experts from Coimbra University’s Faculty of Sciences and Technology (mechanical engineering department), the report’s criticisms were “tough”, says tabloid Correio da Manhã:
“The system failed in prevention, failed in combat and failed in assistance to the wounded.
“The provision of psychological support, medical and hospital help had deficiencies that need further study.
“The situation of the country regarding the provision of medical aid to victims with serious burns although hugely improved in the last few years is still insufficient for accidents on this scale”.
But what came as a bombshell in the report signed off by forest fire specialist Domingues Xavier Viegas is that yet another source has discounted the “bolt of lightening” theory, given as the cause of Pedrógão’s weeklong fires.
Xavier Viegas’ team lays the blame on medium-tension electricity cables coming into contact with vegetation – something firefighters league president Jaime Marta Soares repeatedly suggested at the time.
The team’s exact words were: “We lean strongly towards the start of the fire having been caused by the medium-tension electricity cable. The situation suggests, in our opinion deficient management of combustible material within the protected stretch of the line by the entity in charge”.
Observador website identifies the entity in charge as EDP, stressing the report concludes that the drama developed from the failure by all relevant authorities to fully recognise the potential the blaze had to turn into a monster.
On a day when 26 serious blazes remain active and causing serious problems for a third consecutive night, renewed criticism of the country’s Civil Protection capabilities, even when it cites failings by other authorities as well, is the last thing Portugal needed.
The government has meantime declared three days of national mourning (to last until Thursday), and in the next few minutes prime minister António Costa will be speaking on national television.
“NOTHING CAN REMAIN AS IT WAS BEFORE”
Affirming the government is determined to press ahead with forestry reform and adopt preventive measures as outlined in the ‘independent report’ produced by various experts and published last week (click here), PM Costa took to national television shortly after 8pm to say that ministers will be holding a special council next Saturday to start forging the way forwards.
“After this year, nothing can remain as it was before”, he told journalists, stressing that “decades of neglect” have contributed to the situation that the country is in, and there can be no quick fix.
Opening his address, he gave the balance of yesterday’s fires – a total of 523, with another 199 called in today.
He confirmed that 26 blazes remain active (this has since reduced to 15, with temperatures registering sharp falls), guaranteeing that as soon as these are extinguished and the threats properly tackled (with the help of the Armed Forces), the government will be supporting rebuilding efforts.
Image: one of the many haunting images widely shared online of burnt-out vehicles in the wake of Pedrógão Grande’s devastating fires