Xavier Viegas, the University of Coimbra academic who coordinated and wrote the report, said in a column published on Tuesday that “nothing justifies the decision to censor” one of its chapters and pledged to do all he could to ensure that the stories of the victims of the fires in Pedrógão Grande and Góis, in central Portugal, are known.
The fires in Pedrógão and neighbouring municipalities that started on 17 June and burned for several days claimed 64 lives, and left 200 people injured, some seriously.
In the opinion column in Publico newspaper, Viegas condemned the CNPD’s decision to bar the publication of parts of chapter 6 of the report, saying that in order to protect the constitutional rights to privacy and personal data of the families of the victims, only the families should see it.
Viegas revealed that he has compiled a new version of the chapter in question so as to omit the names of the people involved – so “making the text impersonal and difficult to read but even so understandable”.
He expressed the view that it was “hard to see that the work of a team of researchers, with evidence and contributions given in the ambit of the study of the fire’s behaviour, of the safety and the protection of people and assets, should be censured so as to protect data that are recognised as being in the public domain.” And he pledged his team to do all it could to ensure that as much as possible of its findings become known.
“The noise that has been made around this chapter has … diverted people’s attention from the report’s contents,” he added. He dismissed any suggestions of “voyeurism” in the group’s detailed exposition of how the victims died, stressing the need to learn from what happened.
The government last Friday released some points from chapter 6 of the report, including some situations where people survived who did not try to flee, either by remaining in their homes or in water tanks; others where injured people were rescued; and still others where people were found dead.
The report was submitted in October just days before hundreds of blazes broke out on what turned out to the worst day for forest fires this year, 15 October.