Wildfires trap 2,000 villagers in Portugal

Firefighters tackle a wildfire at Vale Formoso village in Macao on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2017
0

Wildfires trap 2,000 villagers in Portugal

MACAO, Portugal: Forest fires cut off a village of 2,000 people in Portugal, as firefighters struggled Thursday to control two major blazes in the center of the country, local officials said.
And with another wave of hot weather forecast, the government declared a state of emergency in some central and northern regions.
Summer has seen a record number of fires and Portugal’s Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa has blamed arsonists and human negligence for most of them.
Vasco Estrela, the mayor of the embattled village of Macao, told the Lusa news agency: “It’s impossible to leave or to enter Macao because of the flames and the smoke.”
The fire, which broke out on Tuesday evening, grew stronger through Wednesday and by early Thursday had surrounded the village, he said, adding: “The fire is continuing unabated.”
Already at the end of July, a major fire had destroyed between 80 and 90 percent of the village, he said.
The emergency services have had to remove around 130 people from nearby villages, said Patricia Gaspar, spokeswoman for Portugal’s civil protection agency, the ANPC.
Authorities added that the fires have left 92 people injured, seven seriously.
The main road in the region was again cut off on Thursday. Fires also disrupted traffic on the highway that connects the capital Lisbon to Porto in the north.
But firefighters were most worried about the fires around Macao, which were continuing to advance on several fronts, she added.
The forecast of hotter weather in the coming days — increasing the risk that old fire sites will rekindle or new ones break out — convinced the government to declare the state of emergencies.
This year’s fires are the deadliest the country has endured.
Blazes in mid-June near Pedrogao Grande in central Portugal — about 40 kilometers north of Macao — killed 64 people and injured more than 250 others.
The flames spread so fast that many people died trapped in their cars, caught in the fires as they tried to drive to safety.
To mark the two months since the tragedy, Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo and Prime Minister Antonio Costa visited the affected region Thursday.
Costa promised that his government would “authorize reconstruction projects for the damaged homes.”

Firefighters and locals were also struggling Thursday to control fires in nearby villages, including Sardoal, near Vale Formoso and Alcaravela, AFP journalists at the scene said.
“We came here to help the firefighters as best we can, by putting out smaller fires for example,” said volunteer Ines Azevedo, from neighboring Mouriscas.
“In a situation this dire, any help is useful.”
Already this month fires have injured 86 people, seven of them seriously, while authorities last week asked 40,000 people to leave the town of Abrantes — about 20 kilometers from Macao.
As well as recent loss of life, the fires have destroyed 141,000 hectares so far this year, civil protection officials said Wednesday.
The exceptional heat and dry conditions, coupled with strong winds, helped explain the scale of the destruction, said Rui Esteves, commander of the ANPC.

Police on Wednesday said they had arrested 91 suspected arsonists since the beginning of the year. That was a record, said Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa.
“Most of the fires have been started by man, through negligence or malice,” she said.
Firefighters have had to tackle a little over 10,000 separate fires so far this year — 2,500 more than at the same period in 2016.
And after the lethal fires in June, Portugal has now had to call in international help.
Over the weekend, Spain sent 120 firefighters, 27 engines and three firefighting planes to help bolster the exhausted Portuguese teams — part of a European Union program of mutual aid in emergencies.
Morocco also sent one of its firefighting planes.
The lethal fires in June led to a debate in Portugal about management of the forests and the need for an overhaul of the emergency response plan.
In July, the parliament approved several measures aimed at cutting back on eucalyptus plantations — the most common tree being planted in the regions hit hardest by the fires — which is extremely flammable.


US police overseers fire 4 officers in 1994 fatal shooting of black teenager

Updated 26 min 42 sec ago
0

US police overseers fire 4 officers in 1994 fatal shooting of black teenager

  • Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused the officers of either giving or approving knowingly false statements
  • The Laquan McDonald case has roiled the criminal justice system in Chicago
CHICAGO: The Chicago Police Board on Thursday fired four police officers for allegedly covering up a white officer’s 2014 fatal shooting of black teenager Laquan McDonald.
The nine-member board found the officers exaggerated the threat posed by the 17-year-old McDonald to justify his shooting by Jason Van Dyke and voted unanimously for the dismissal of Sgt. Stephen Franko, and officers Janet Mondragon and Ricardo Viramontes. All but one voted to fire Daphne Sebastian because of violations of department rules. She was not found to have made false reports.
The Fraternal Order of Police slammed the police board for its decision, contending the officers did nothing wrong.
“It is obvious that this police board has out-served its usefulness,” said the organization’s vice president Patrick Murray.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson in 2016 accused the officers of either giving or approving knowingly false statements. None of the four were charged criminally, however they were stripped of police powers and assigned to desk duty as their case proceeded. The firings can be appealed through a lawsuit.
A Cook County judge acquitted three other officers in January of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and official misconduct charges in the case.
Former Officer Joseph Walsh, Officer Thomas Gaffney and former Detective David March were charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and official misconduct. Prosecutors said they lied to shield Van Dyke from prosecution. A judge rejected the contention that a video of McDonald’s death proved police officers staged a cover-up.
McDonald was allegedly high on PCP and carrying a small knife in 2014 when Van Dyke exited his squad car and almost immediately opened fire. Police video released in 2015 showed Van Dyke firing 16 bullets into McDonald, many after the teen had crumpled to the ground.
Franko was accused of approving false police reports that McDonald attempted to stab Van Dyke and another officer and had in fact injured Van Dyke.
Mondragon was accused of falsely reporting that she did not see the shooting of McDonald because she was shifting the gear of her squad car. She was also accused of incompetence for not inspecting the video equipment in her car to see if it was working and recording events.
Viramontes was accused of reporting that McDonald continued to move after he shot and that he tried to get up with the knife still in his hand. He held to his statement even when an investigator showed him a video of the shooting.
Sebastian was not found to have filed a false report. However, it was determined she gave misleading and inconsistent statements to investigators that McDonald turned toward Van Dyke and another officer with a knife in a motion toward them.
Jurors convicted Van Dyke of murder in October. He’s serving a more than six-year prison term.
Illinois’ Supreme Court denied a bid by the state’s attorney general and a special prosecutor to resentence Van Dyke. The prosecutors expressed the belief the sentence was too lenient for the crime.
The McDonald case has roiled the criminal justice system in Chicago. The then police superintendent, Gerry McCarty, was fired by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the then top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, was ousted by voters. Many believe Emanuel decided against running for a third term because of the case. It also led to a US Justice Department investigation that found a “pervasive cover-up culture” and prompted plans for far-reaching police reforms.