Portugal fire report in 'censorship' row


Firefighter resting amid forest fire near Coimbra, June 2017Image copyright
PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images

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Hundreds of firefighters tackled the blaze

The author of an official report into Portugal’s worst-ever forest fire has accused the authorities of “censorship” for ruling that an important chapter cannot be made public.

Xavier Viegas, of Coimbra University’s Centre for the Study of Forest Fires, says “nothing can justify the decision to censor” the report into the June fires, according to Publico newspaper.

The wildfires in central Portugal left 64 people dead and more than 200 injured.

The Data Protection Commission insists that only the families of the victims should be allowed to read the 96 pages of Chapter Six, which details how people died in or escaped from the fires, citing the constitutional right to privacy.

But Professor Viegas objects on the grounds that much of the information is already in the public domain – the government itself published some accounts of survivors from the chapter last week, but removed all names and mentioned no deaths.

The professor complains that the “noise about this chapter has diverted attention from the report’s contents”.

Alternative version

Report author Xavier Viegas says he has prepared a version with all the names omitted that could be published without invading the families’ privacy, as it is “important to know how this happened and to learn the relevant lessons”.

Some public figures are concerned that any shortcomings in the rescue efforts might not see the light of day.

Opposition MP Telmo Correia is demanding the parliament have full access to the report, in order to check whether there are “any contradictions between the study and the official accounts”.

And Nadia Piazza, the head of the Association of Victims of the Pedrogao Grande Fire, also wants the report published, as “there were failings, and these failings need to be made known”.

But she told Publico that upsetting details should be omitted, as families are “still in trauma“.

Image copyright
MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images

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The fire spread rapidly across central Portugal

Reporting by Martin Morgan

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