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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Pedrogao Fire: “Failure of Strategy”

Updated: Dec 10, 2021


The former director of the Civil Protection Agency testified that there was a “delay in setting up the command post” in the horrific Pedrogao Grande fire, according to the Observador (December 7).

“All circumstances are hampered by the delay in the installation of the command post,” said Nuno Moreira, the former national director of Audit and Oversight of the National Emergency and Civil Protection Agency (ANEPC) considering that the delay “led to requesting meteorological information too late.”

Moreira said that the AROME weather forecast was requested at 19:44 on June 17, 2017, the day the fire broke out. AROME is a small-scale numerical prediction model, which improves short-range forecasts of severe events.

“The AROME forecast contemplated the change of wind for a particular hour,” he said.

Defense attorney Filomena Girao, who represents the commander of the Pedrogao Grande Fire Brigade, Augusto Arnaut, said that it would be interesting to know whether the AROME “goes to the point of being able to anticipate changes in the wind caused by the fire itself”. Moreira responded that this is a technical aspect of it.

Attorney Girao also presented the witness with a report that said the command post had “a lack of technical and material resources.”

The former civil protection director agreed, explaining that there was only one computer and a geographic map.

“The manning of the command post did not only depend on the commander of the relief operations, it also depends on the dispatch of the relief operations from the CDOS (Comando Distrital de Operaçoes de Socorro)”, said Nuno Moreira, adding that “the true dimension (of the fires) was only known on the 19th at night”.

Defense Attorney Girao listed the names of the commanders of relief operations between the 17th and 19th of June 2017. On several occasions, she asked whether it was “a person or was it the system that failed” in the fire. Nuno Moreira said that there was “a failure of strategy”.

The trial began on May 24.

To shorten the legal proceedings, the trial will have four weekly sessions with the panel of judges starting in February 2022.

“In an order to which the Lusa agency had access today, it said that the CSM (Superior Council of Magistracy) granted “full exclusivity of functions to the three judges who make up the collective court”, from February 1st to June 22, 2022, “with a view to the conclusion of the shortest possible period of time for the discussion and judgment hearing in the present case, with the scheduling of four sessions per week,” according to RTP Noticias (December 7).

In a session of the trial on December 7, defense attorney Magalhaes e Silva criticized the decision, warning that it “calls into question the practice, under minimally normal conditions, of the law”.

The judge said that the argument was understandable but stressed that “the macro-management of the service is removed from the effective power of the collective court, of the presiding judge”.

There are 33 lawyers involved full-time in the case, said Magalhaes e Silva.

There are 11 defendants in the trial at the Judicial Court of Leiria to determine responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44 in the Pedrogao Grande fire of June 17, 2017, the deadliest fire in Portugal’s history.

The defendants are two former municipality presidents, one former municipality president and two council employees, who are accused of failing to clear the land along the roads; the commander of the local fire station, who is accused of preventing the safeguarding villages and populations, having omitted information that could have led to a cut in the road, where 47 people died; two EDP (Energias de Portugal) electricity firm employees, who are accused of not cleaning the strips along a medium-voltage line, which had an electrical discharge of unknown cause that set off the fire; and three members of roads authority Ascendi Pinhal Interior, who are accused of lack of road maintenance, according to Observador (May 24).

They all face charges of negligent homicide and grievous bodily harm, according to Diario de Noticias (May 24).

(There is a separate trial of alleged irregularities in the rebuilding of houses after the fire. A panel of judges is scheduled to rule on January 31, 2022. The housing trial began on October 26, 2020.)

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