March 20, 2018 / 3:37 PM / 9 months ago

Portugal to pay $38 million in compensation to fire victims' families

FILE PHOTO - Burned cars are seen during a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal is to pay 31 million euros ($38 million) in compensation to the families of the 114 victims of fires that hit the country last year in the worst such disasters on record, the independent ombudsman said on Tuesday.

Extreme hot and dry weather ignited the two lethal fires in June and October, which led to the resignation of the interior minister and the introduction of far-reaching measures to tackle the blazes that ravage the abandoned interior every summer.

“What happened was unique, because of the extreme violence (of the disasters),” Maria Lucia Amaral told reporters, adding that the total amount of authorized claims will be around 31 million euros. “Nobody has been left out,” she said.

The government assumed the responsibility of compensating victims’ families in a process that was overseen by Aramal. The deadline for applications was in February.

A separate process to compensate the injured will run until May.

The authorities faced harsh criticism for the fires, including that rescue services and firefighters were slow to react. The government survived a no confidence vote in parliament in October over the fires. [nL8N1MZ7B9]

A government report found that the fire in June was caused by an unusually dangerous mix of heat and powerful winds, which led the blaze to spread extremely quickly, killing many in their cars as they tried to escape through a forest road.

The government has now adopted a series of fire prevention measures which have been discussed for many years in Portugal, including enforcing strict rules on cutting down undergrowth on properties and developing a full land registry for the country.

A key reason for Portugal’s regular summer forest fires is that much of the interior is owned by absent landlords, making it difficult to enforce clearing of land to prevent fires spreading.

Reporting By Axel Bugge

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