Tragedy in Pedrógão Grande: 64 confirmed deaths and 254 injured

  • ECO News
  • 22 June 2017

Death toll rises to 64 and there are 254 injured people in the Pedrógão Grande fire, in Leiria. Portugal's President speaks of painful moments, but states it is time to fight back and rebuild.

Burned cars at N236 road between Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera, near Pedrógão Grande, central Portugal, 18 June 2017. At least sixty four people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, with many being trapped in their cars as flames swept over a road on the evening of 17 June 2017. EPA/MIGUEL A. LOPES

At least 64 people died and 254 were injured in the forest fire in Pedrógão Grante, Leiria distric (central Portugal). These numbers are still being updated by the National Institute of Medical Emergencies (INEM). The fire had been consuming Pedrógão Grande and its surrounding areas since 2 p.m. this Saturday, and it was tamed this Thursday.

According to the Portuguese Civil Protection, by 9 p.m. this Saturday, there were 264 firefighters, two aerial fire-fighting resources and 83 fire trucks fighting the forest fire. It has been announced this Monday morning that two Italian airplanes are flying to Portugal to help fighting the flames.

The chief of Criminal Police stated this Sunday to Portuguese news agency Lusa that the fire was caused by a dry lightning. “We actually found the tree which was struck by lightning”, he stated, which means there is no proof of criminal action. Even so, the Portuguese Public Prosecutor will open a criminal investigation to search the causes of the accident.

However, this Wednesday, Jaime Marta Soares, president of the League of Portuguese Firefighters, stated the fire started two hours before the thunderstorm: “My personal belief is that this was an arson fire“.

President Marcelo hugs Jorge Gomes, state secretary for the Interior, on the night of the fire. EPA/PAULO CUNHA

The President of the Portuguese Republic described this fire as “an unprecedented tragedy in the history of Portuguese democracy”. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated to the country that this is a grieving time: “By now there are many questions and feelings that anguish us, especially the feeling of injustice, because this tragedy harmed the Portuguese who are less spoken of: those who come from isolated rural areas with dispersed populations, who are more aged and more difficult to contact, protect and save“. Nonetheless, this is a time to fight back, to relocate and to rebuild: “Portugal stands together as one”, says Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

Woman sitting on the street during the fire in Pedrógão Grande. EPA/PAULO CUNHA

Solidarity wave floods Portugal

Since this is one of the most deadly fires in Portugal, the Portuguese people are showing solidarity towards the victims of the fire in the Pedrógão Grande region, namely through donations. Many entities have joined this display of solidarity — here are some examples:

  • Banks: CGD opened a solidarity account and will also help with housing loans; the Montepio Group assures 250 thousand euros to support the victims; Novo Banco created an account on their NB Crowdfunding platform to which it donated 50 thousand euros; BCP also opened a solidarity account.
  • Insurers: Lusitânia – Companhia de Seguros joined the solidarity wave by “assuring a prompt analysis of claims”; Liberty created a mobile unit to speed insurance payments.
  • Companies: Uber will collect water and other non-perishable goods’ donations by freely getting them to fire stations; Portuguese TV channels RTP and SIC each provided a phone number for the collection of donations;
  • Foundation: the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation created a special 500 thousand euros’ funding “to help minimize the consequences” of the fire and the tragedy that affected Pedrógão Grande, Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pera.