Europe

Portugal's Siresp rescue network 'failed forest fire victims'

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Media captionOn a single stretch of road 47 people died

At least 10 emergency calls failed to reach firefighters last week during the forest fires in which 64 people died, reports say.

Civil protection officials have already revealed that rescuers were let down by the Siresp emergency services network during the four-day disaster.

Now details have emerged of pleas for help that did not get through to commanders on the ground.

The government has ordered an investigation into the network.

The fire began in the Pedrógão Grande area during the afternoon on 17 June and within hours the failures of the emergency network, which relies on mobile antennas, were becoming clear.

The first failure came at 19:45 on 17 June. Three people dialled the 112 emergency number from an abandoned house in nearby Casalinho to report that the building was surrounded by flames. Emergency services tried to contact the local command post and the deputy commander but were unable to get through, according to a civil protection authority (ANPC) timeline, described by Portuguese media as a "black box".

Five minutes later, officials were unable to contact a command post to help a father and son in trouble a few kilometres away in Troviscais. These and several other cases are documented throughout the night by the Público and Jornal de Notícias websites.

At 01:02 on 18 June comes the most chilling entry on the civil protection authority's log, in a reference to the deaths of 47 people on a single stretch of the N-236 road. Thirty of the victims died in their cars. A district relief operations command appeals for help in tackling "breakdowns in the Siresp network" and for "lifting the dead victims who are in the road, making it impossible for combat means to get through".

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Image caption On several occasions, emergency services were unable to contact commanders on the ground

The civil protection authority has already confirmed "failures in the Siresp network" that continued throughout the four-day emergency and on the Saturday evening, firefighters resorted to using their old radio network.

The government on Monday said it had asked for a study into Siresp's operation, particularly during serious accidents and disasters. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said last week that the network had suffered because cables and communication towers had been damaged by the fire. However, he said the mobile network had provided temporary mobile antennas.

The forest fires were the worst in Portugal's history, with 64 dead and 254 injured.

Portugal's Siresp (joint emergency and security network system) has had a chequered past. It was set up in 2006 as a partnership between the government and private sector.

The system stopped working during a rescue attempt in storms in January 2013 and it was linked to the deaths of two firefighters a few months later.

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