More than two weeks since the deadly fire in Pedrógão Grande that killed 64 people and injured over 200, controversy continues – with answers few and far between.
Damages have been set at “more than €500 million”, with manpower still in evidence on the ground to ensure hot spots do not reignite and to help reassure locals who are still coming to grips with the enormity of the tragedy.
With this week signalling the start of the acute fire season (Phase Charlie), army marines are likely to stay in force around the devastated borough until current high temperatures subside.
Meantime, a report by meteorologists at IPMA (the Portuguese institute of sea and atmosphere) has all but ruled out the official cause of the fire, announced within hours of its rapid spread on Saturday June 17: a lightning strike during a ‘dry thunderstorm’ (a phenomenon involving thunder, lightning but no rain).
Up until last weekend, PJ police investigators were sticking to this thesis, saying they had even found the tree that was struck by the first bolt of lightning.
But IPMA has gone over all the data, and insists the likelihood of such a lightning strike is “low”.
Added to this, president of the league of firefighters Jaime Marta Soares is still holding onto his suspicions of “a criminal hand” (click here) being behind the horror that destroyed more than 500 houses and 40 businesses, not to mention thousands of hectares of forest land.
He has elaborated on his reasons, telling reporters that in the month leading up to the worst fire tragedy in Portugal’s living memory there were no less than 10 fires registered in the Escalos Fundeiros area where Pedrógão’s fire began.
Soares has come up with another theory, however. It is just possible, he said, that in the exceptional heat of June 17, sparks may have come off medium and high tension power lines, igniting trees nearby.
It is further confusion in the muddled arena that has still to fix compensation for the hundreds of families and businesses affected.
At the same time, pressure on the government to ditch the PPP (public-private partnership) known as SIRESP is riding high.
SIRESP is the name for the government’s emergency communications network that has been criticised for not working efficiently in any major national incident (click here).