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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Pedrogao Fire: "Roof Tiles Flying Through the Air"

The firefighter ex-commander testified that he had little visibility on the road.


The commander of the Volunteer Firefighters of Figueiro dos Vinhos at the time of the Pedogao Grande fire testified that his colleague, Augusto Arnaut, requested more vehicles several times to fight the fire.

Paulo Nogueira recalled that the District Command of Relief Operations (CDOS) of Leiria called him for a fire in Moninhos, Figueiro dos Vinhos, at 15:00 on June 17, 2017, according to Noticias de Coimbra (January 11, 2022).

“I had requested additional resources, but when I realized that I didn’t need them because it was entering the aftermath phase, I suggested to CDOS that they send them to Pedrogao Grande as I heard Commander (Augusto) Arnaut several times on the radio ask for more vehicles.”

After a month-long hiatus, the trial to determine criminal responsibility in the fire of Pedrogao Grande resumed on January 11 with Nogueira’s testimony before a group of judges at the Judicial Court of Leiria.

“When we arrived at the industrial park of Figueiro dos Vinhos, the weather suddenly changed. It would have been around 7:45 p.m. I saw a storm, with many roof tiles and garbage cans flying through the air. Something I’d never seen before. I told the teams that I was going to the IC8 to see what was going on.”

The ex-commander said that he saw “a lot of people on the road” and had little visibility. He even had difficulty returning.

“We couldn’t move forward, so we fought the fire from my municipality.”

Paulo Nogueira stressed that the vehicles that were in Moninhos “never reached Pedrogao Grande”, with one of Castanheira de Pera’s cars having an accident.

Defense attorney Filomena Girao, who represents the commander of Pedrogao Grande, asked whether there were sufficient resources and whether it was possible to safely carry out the evacuation of the houses.

“No,” answered the witness.

Jose Fernandes, ambulance technician and second commander of Castanheira de Pera, admitted that if “there had been more resources at the beginning of the fire, the outcome would have been different.”

Fernandes also pointed out “the difficulty in reaching the places” because “in some, the fire had already passed, and there was smoke and residue from the fire.” He said that if it had been possible to warn people not to leave their houses, many deaths could have been avoided.

In the trial of the deadliest fire in Portugal’s history, there are 11 defendants to determine responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44.

The 11 trial defendants are two current municipality presidents, one former municipality president and two council employees, who are accused of failing to clear the land along the roads.

In addition, there is the commander of the local fire station, who is accused of preventing the safeguarding of villages and populations, having omitted information that could have led to a cut in the road where 47 people died.

Also, there are 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, 2021).

The defendants all face charges of negligent homicide and grievous bodily harm, according to Diario de Noticias (May 24, 2021).

The trial began on May 24, 2021.

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