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article imageTwelve face trial over Portugal 2017 fires: prosecutors

By AFP     Sep 27, 2018 in World

Twelve people including three commanders of Portugal's civil protection agency will stand trial over the country's worst ever wildfires which claimed 64 lives in June 2017, prosecutors said Thursday.

The accused, who face charges of negligent homicide, also include three local officials and three employees of a company in charge of the maintenance of a road where some 50 people died in the blaze in the central Leiria region, the local prosecutor's office said.

The fires burned for five days, breaking out at the height of a summer heatwave. Many of the victims died trapped in their cars while trying to escape the flames.

Violent winds fanned the fires, ravaging some 460 square kilometres (180 square miles) of hillsides covered with pine and eucalyptus trees.

According to local media, the prosecutors' investigation largely mirrored the findings of an earlier inquiry by a special parliamentary commission, which found serious failings in officials' handling of the fires.

The parliamentary report said electrical surges from the power distribution network had caused the blaze.

Months after the disaster, a new series of deadly wildfires broke out in the centre and north of the country in October, killing another 45 people.

Interior minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa resigned that month amid criticism over the Socialist government's handling of the fires.

The government has since implemented a series of safety measures to avoid another deadly tragedy and launched an ambitious reforestation project.

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