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Alijó fire - SIRESP communications system fails again

firehelicopterEmergency services tackling a serious fire in Alijó, in Vila Real district, this weekend were shocked to find that yet again, the SIRESP emergency service communications system was suffering from intermittent failures.

The chaos caused by the failure of the SIRESP communication system in the June fire at Pedrógão Grande, Leiria, already is being blamed for poor emergency services coordination and may be proved to have played a part in the deaths of many of the 64 victims who were burned alive in their vehicles as they tried to flee the flames.

Patrícia Gaspar, the deputy commander of operations from the National Authority for Civil Protection, confirmed that the SIRESP emergency communications service had failed in this weekend's blaze in Alijó.

"We have registered some temporary faults in the SIRESP network in the Alijó area, where the fire is being fought," confirmed Gaspar.

"We are not talking of a global failure of SIRESP, we are talking about temporary and momentary failures in the network," said the Civil Protection chief.

The SIRESP system has switched itself to ‘local’ mode and emergency personnel again resorted to having to using their mobile phones and the backup Fire Operators Network emergency communcations system.

To fill the gaps, a mobile communications station had to be brought down from Oporto while local service personnel resorted to using the Fire Operators Network system.

Patrícia Gaspar said that "communication during these failures was ensured by using the Fire Operators Network (ROB)," and that fighting the flames was never compromised by a lack of communication.

The fire that started early on Sunday morning necessitated the evacuation of villagers from Chã, Vila Chã and Casas da Serra as 419 personnel using 133 vehicles, tacked the extensive blaze.

The evacuees spent the night in a local gym where a psychologist, a social worker and a nurse were on hand.

The fire was close to over on Sunday afternoon, as four heavy aircraft and two helicopters were being used to dump water, but the blaze roared back to life, fanned by winds of up to 80 kmph and fire teams worked all night to douse the flames.

The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, managed to get a call through to the local mayor on Sunday evening. He phoned from Mexico and discussed the fire with the mayor of Alijó, Carlos Magalhães, who said "the size of the fire is gigantic" and that the wind has changed direction and is taking the flames to unexpected areas.

On Sunday, Magalhães said that there are flaws in the communications system and that it "is already in local mode, which is hindering communications in the field."

On Monday morning, villagers were being allowed back to survey the damage to crops, trees and properties including warehouses, annexes and empty homes. The fire was close to over by Monday lunchtime and the IC5 has been reopened, having been closed on Sunday.

One of the firefighting helicopters, owned by Everjets, had an accident (see picture below), but the pilot got out with only scrapes and bruises.

The Eurocopter AS350B Écureuil had a problem with its water bucket operation and crash landed. The GNR isolated the accident zone and is gathering evidence.

Everjets, which operates the light-duty fire-fighting helicopters in a heavy-duty and lucrative contract, is to conduct its own investigation into the accident and will replace the damaged helicopter.