Pedrogao’s “Out-of-the-Ordinary” Fire Conditions
Two schist stones that saved several in the fire became a memorial to 11 villagers and a “monument to life” in Nodeirinho one year later.
Combustible trees and other vegetation lined the national road where most died in the Pedrogao Grande fire, testified four experts of a commission in the trial of 11 defendants to determine responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44.
One month before the June 17, 2017, tragedy, fire specialist Jorge Raposo had inspected the National Road 236-1. He told the Judicial Court of Leiria on November 22:
“There are not supposed to be trees near the edge, but there were eucalyptus and pine trees.”
The technical commission was led by Domingos Xavier Viegas at the University of Coimbra’s Faculty of Sciences and Technology (Department of Mechanical Engineering). Xavier Viegas, who testified in the previous two sessions, wrote a government-commissioned report on the fire.
(There is a separate trial of alleged irregularities in the rebuilding of houses after the deadliest fire in Portugal’s history. The housing trial began on October 26, 2020. A panel of judges is scheduled to rule on January 31, 2022.)
Raposo said that when he went to the national road the day after the fire, he found that there were trees “one to two meters from the road” and others that had fallen on the road, preventing circulation, reported Jornal de Noticias (November 22). Previously, Xavier Viegas had testified that it was important to clean the border 10 meters along the road, according to the Expresso (November 8).
Raposo added that the location of the “road of death” between two valleys led to the fire gaining “a much higher speed” and “great intensity”, according to Jornal de Noticias (November 22).
“All the vegetation showed that there was an extremely aggressive and high-intensity fire,” said Raposo. “In most places I’ve been, the fire consumed most of the vegetation so that there was almost nothing left but charcoal.”
The specialist also pointed out that the combination of fires in the villages of Escalos Fundeiros and Regadas in the municipality of Pedrogao Grande created an “out-of-the-ordinary development”, a phenomenon of interaction that was not very well-known four years ago.
A member of the team of experts specializing in vegetation, Maria Teresa Viegas, said that she visited Nodeirinho, Pobrais and Vila Facaia and saw that “there were many trees and many eucalyptuses”, a flammable species, as well as all the vegetation that contributed to the spread of the fire.
“The vegetation was under stress due to a lack of water,” said Maria Teresa Viegas, which she said was a contributory factor of the fire. “There was a difference compared with previous years.”
One month after the fire, Ricardo Oliveira, a firefighter specializing in territorial issues, inspected the National Road 236-1, reported Jornal de Noticias (November 22).
“There was only burnt wood,” said Oliveira, another member of the team. Vegetation was everywhere. You can’t say there was maintenance nor any traces of it being done.”
Daniela Alves, a researcher in environmental engineering and an expert in meteorological conditions, testified that “the fuel load was high on the roadsides” in Escalos Fundeiros and in Regadas.
“It was a common factor in several places.”
The 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; 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).
The trial began on May 24.