Partial disclosure of the report on the fires that devastated the central zone in June now reveals (in an article by TVI 24 on 3rd December 2017) how many lives were saved and how more deaths were avoided. The names assigned in this article are fictitious, to avoid identifying the circumstances in which each victim died.
“António was more than 16 hours on the ground. At the end of the hot June day, still before 2000hrs, he could not imagine that he would, a few hours later, save elderly people, at least one child, avoid a second “death road” and be the first authority to reach EN 236. The Commander of the District Civil Protection Grouping (CADIS) was the man the National Command had tasked to ascertain the size of the flames that threatened the centre of the country.
The order to go to the terrain arrived at 19:58 hrs, minutes before the flames reached Nacional 236. Antonio did not know, could not know the tragedy that was about to unfold, before he departed. Accompanied by Jose and André, firefighters from the Special Force and members of the Reconnaissance and Situation Assessment Team were, from Pedrogao Grande they drove in a 4×4 towards Nacional 350, which connects Leiria to Oleiros, in Castelo Branco, and passes through Figueiró dos Vinhos.
The story of the Civil Protection commander and the team is part of the details revealed in chapter 6 of the report of the fires prepared by the University of Coimbra Forest Fire Study Center and that the National Data Protection Commission has banned the disclosure.
EN 350, the second “death road” that almost happened
The goal was to “take the municipal roads, to the parish of Graça to try to observe the front of the fire”. The road was taken and when they arrived in Alto they realised that the flames had already cut the road and near the fire were several cars stopped. António made an immediate decision to direct and assist the drivers to remove the vehicles, by making U-turns, to avoid them becoming trapped. An alert was passed to the Command Post, who arranged that the road be cut quickly to avoid further vehicles using it.
It is not certain how many people were saved there, nor is it certain what would have happened if they had stayed there.
The team continued through the first useable exit, the IC8, towards Outão, where António, despite the intense smoke that forced them to go slowly at 20 kph, distinguish a child lying on the ground.
The team asked for help for the child, who also had respiratory problems, but they no longer received a response from the Command Post. The district commander decides to make the reverse course and returns to Pedrógão Grande, with the boy who after an hour, the boy is finally treated. On the way, look and see the places that had already been, taken by the flames.
At around 2200 hrs, a new order arrives from the National Civil Protection Command. The destination was now Villa Facaia, on the EN 236. The road is taken “although everything around is burning”. They arrive at Barraca da Boavista, a small village in Vila Facaia that survived the fires without major damage and fatalities.
A situation that that might have had another story to tell if it was not for the action of the three men, who found in a garage “four or five old men, one with burns on his right arm.” Emergency calls are requested and some ambulances arrive with another group of heroes: the firefighters of Castanheira da Pêra , who had an accident and were burned as they tried to save victims of the fires. One of the firefighters, Gonçalo Correia, died.
The arrival on the “road of death”
In fact, the reconnaissance team was already circulating at Nacional 236, but it was still far from imagining what it would find. The first warning comes from the National Commander himself, who, after 22:00, asks the three men to continue on that route, since “there would be problems there.”
At the beginning of the road they find a fallen pine that prevented the passage. The car stops and they proceed on foot along the road where Antonio, José and André begin to find the macabre scenery.
The terrifying road led them to the burned cars. Inside were the victims. In some cases it was possible to identify the corpses, in others not.
In this area they counted 19 or 20 bodies and made this communication, since they could not speak directly to the Operational Command Post (they did not have a cellular telephone network and SIRESP also did not allow this) made this communication to Lisbon via radio. They switched channels, linked the national channel and passed this information to the National Command; anyone who was on the radio on that channel would hear the conversation. They passed on the information of where they were (the coordinates passed), the scenario they had found so far and the number of mortal victims that had already managed to count, “reads the document.
By 22:30 there was nothing left. No fire in the cars. The smoke alone showed signs of tragedy. Apart from the team there, no one was in the area at that hour. Fifteen long minutes passed and a GNR patrol arrived and then some ambulances that wanted to pass but could not. In his testimony to the University of Coimbra, the district commander makes it clear that the only means of combat he found was the firemen of Castanheira da Pêra.
The story of Antonio, José and André is real, and the National 236 has become known in history of death, as “the road of death”. The three men went on to rescue another woman who was next to two bodies, without reaction and with burns in the hand
Antónioand his team discovered more dead in Nodeirinho and Pobrais, and counted and identified victims throughout the night and morning of the following say, the 18th .
At noon, they arrived at the Operational Command Post, where Antonio reported that he was “exhausted and had to leave.”
“The mission was completed.”