National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Forest Fires in Portugal Date in the current year: June 17, 2024

National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Forest Fires in Portugal The National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Forest Fires is a Portuguese observance marked annually on June 17. It was officially established in 2019 to commemorate over 60 people who died and more than 250 who were injured in the devastating wildfires that occurred in June 2017.

A series of deadly wildfires erupted in central Portugal on June 17, 2017. Preceded by a heatwave of high intensity, they are thought to have been caused by lightning strikes during dry thunderstorms. However, the president of the Portuguese Firefighters League suspected that the cause of the fires was arson.

There were four initial wildfires that erupted within minutes of each other in the municipality of Pedrógão Grande. The fires spread dramatically during the night that followed, causing a firestorm consisting of a total of 156 fires. As of June 20, the fires affected a total area of nearly 45,000 hectares, nearly two-thirds of it in the Pedrógão Grande area. They partially or completely destroyed over 500 houses and affected four dozen businesses.

More than 1,700 firefighters from all over the country were deployed to combat the fires. In addition, France, Italy, Morocco and Spain dispatched their firefighters and water-bombing aircraft to help combat the fires. Firefighting efforts were hampered by low-hanging smoke that rendered helicopters unable to provide support. The fires were finally quelled a week after they started, on June 24.

The June 2017 wildfires were the biggest and deadliest wildfires in Portuguese history, as well as the 11th deadliest wildfires in the world since 1900. At least 66 people died (65 civilians and a volunteer firefighter) and 254 were injured (241 civilians, 12 firefighters and a member of the National Republican Guard), seven of them seriously (four firefighters, two adult civilians and a child).

The majority of victims died while trying to escape in their cars when a fire swept across a rural road, killing 47 people. 30 of them died trapped in their cars and the other 17 died while trying to escape on foot. One person died after being hit by a car while fleeing from the fire. Another 11 people died in the village of Nodeirinho located between Pedrógão Grande and Avelar.

On June 18, three days of national mourning were declared by Portuguese prime minister António Costa. On the same day, the Portugal national football team donned black armbands during their match against Mexico that was preceded by a minute of silence in remembrance of the victims.

The National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Forest Fires (Dia Nacional em Memória das Vítimas dos Incêndios Florestais) was unanimously established by the Assembly of the Republic (Portuguese parliament) in 2019. The observance honors the memory of the men, women and children who lost their lives in June 2017, but also of those who have died in forest fires throughout the country’s history. To pay homage to those who have lost their lives in forest fires, the national flag is flown at half-mast.

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National Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Forest Fires in Portugal, memorial days, observances in Portugal, 2017 wildfires