LISBON, Portugal – Portugal’s prime minister lost his patience with journalists’ questions Wednesday as accusations flew about who or which agency might be to blame for the deaths of 64 people in a raging forest fire.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa pledged to clarify the “contradictory information” as soon as possible amid finger-pointing between different authorities involved in fighting the deadly blaze. He walked away from reporters before returning and saying “nobody is more eager than I am to find out” what happened.
The catastrophe has provided political ammunition to opposition parties, with some calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa. Testifying before a parliamentary committee Wednesday, Urbano de Sousa almost broke down in tears as she described the fire as “the most difficult moment of my life.”
She refused to quit, saying her duty is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Criticism of how the fire was handled has focused mainly on the country’s emergency telecommunications network, known by its acronym SIRESP.
Firefighters say the system didn’t work properly during the five days they fought the wildfire that started in central Portugal on June 17, when the deaths occurred. The Civil Protection Agency, which operates the firefighting service, said in a report that flaws in the radio system prevented the smooth flow of information between the command post and firefighters in the field.