Portugal PM wants answers as fatal forest fires rage

Burnt forest areas in Vale do Cambra, some 30km to Pedrograo Grande. The huge forest fires in Portugal erupted last Saturday and spread at breakneck speed.
Burnt forest areas in Vale do Cambra, some 30km to Pedrograo Grande. The huge forest fires in Portugal erupted last Saturday and spread at breakneck speed.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PEDROGAO GRANDE (Portugal) • Prime Minister Antonio Costa has led calls to find out why a highway in Portugal now dubbed the "road of death" - where most of the 64 victims of a giant forest fire perished - had not been blocked off, as questions mounted over the disaster management response.

More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling to control the flames which broke out in the central Pedrogao Grande region at the weekend and spread at breakneck speed to neighbouring areas.

Forty-seven of the 64 victims died on the N236, which has been branded the "road of death" by local media. A further 157 people have been listed as injured, including seven in serious condition.

There have been suggestions that forestry practices and outdated emergency planning might have contributed to the disaster.

Press reports suggested the fire plan had not been revised for four years and that there had been communication problems while trying to contain the blaze.

Nearly 26,000ha of forest have already been destroyed, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have expressed their condolences in letters to Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister Costa, respectively.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy and their families. I wish them strength and resolve to overcome their difficulties through this period of adversity," said President Tan. PM Lee wrote: "Our thoughts are with the Portuguese people during this difficult time. We also pray for the safety of the rescue workers. I am confident that Portugal will overcome this disaster with fortitude."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'Portugal PM wants answers as fatal forest fires rage'. Print Edition | Subscribe