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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

No Charges in October 2017 Fires

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

Using a hoe to try to stop the reigniting of the fire in Seia


The investigation of the Pedragao Grande fires in June 2017 resulted in 11 defendants, including mayors, being accused of negligent homicide in the deaths of 63 people. However, the probe of the October fires in central Portugal, which killed 50, has not even been filed, much less resulted in any indictments, according to a judicial source of the Expresso (August 13).

The Public Ministry decided to combine the October 15 fires into a single mega inquiry which was centralized by the Department of Investigation and Criminal Action (DIAP) and the Judicial Police.

Therefore, the fires in Lousa, Oliveira do Hospital, Quiaios (Coimbra), Serta (Castelo Branco), Vouzela (Viseu), Seia and Gouveia (Guarda) have been investigated together.

These fires do not share the same characteristics, which makes the investigation more complex and could explain the delay in completing the case, reported the Expresso.

With regard to the Guarda fires, for example, there are three inquiries with different conclusions that were later joined to the mega inquiry.

In Vide (Seia), it was proven that the fire that started on the side of a road and killed two people, was started with a direct flame from a lighter. However, it was not determined who was responsible.

Another, in Sandomil (Seia), which caused serious injuries, was deemed accidental.

In the case of Folgosinho (Gouveia), which caused one death, “no causes or suspicions were determined” revealed the Judicial Police source, according to the Expresso.

Thus far, in the October 2017 fires, there are no detainees or any defendants.

“There may not even be defendants, among mayors, for indirect responsibility, contrary to what happened with the Pedragao Grande fire,” confided a source, close to the process, to the Expresso.

“Each case is its own case. And, in the fires of October, this is particularly true,” said the same source to Expresso.

In a few days, a total of 418,087 hectares (1,033,115 acres) burned, and 190,090 hectares (469,722 acres), or nearly half, was forest, according to SAPO24 (October 30, 2017). Aside from the 50 who lost their lives, nearly 70 suffered injuries, and 1,500 houses and more than 500 businesses were totally or partially destroyed, according to Sabado (June 14, 2018).

The 50th fatality victim died eight months later in a Coimbra hospital. Bernarda Matias, 66, had sustained grave burns on half of her body, reported Boa Nova Radio (June 14, 2018). She had tried to escape the fire in a car with her nephew. Bernarda Matias had worked for the parish of Ervedal da Beira in Oliveira do Hospital.

New to Portugal nine years ago, unfamiliar with the terrain, and speaking a Portuguese-Spanish mishmash of my own, the patient Bernarda Matias assisted me in obtaining residency certificates for my family. I remember her as a bright light. Amiable and full of life.

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