By Chris King •
Updated: 07 Sep 2023 • 17:43
Image of forest fire in Ponte da Barca, Portugal.
A 28-year-old man suspected of starting at least 20 fires in the Viana do Castelo district of Portugal is back in preventive detention this Thursday, September 7.
He was originally arrested on August 31 but due to the strike by judicial employees, the criminal investigation judge ordered his release the following day.
This decision was justified by the fact that it was not possible to carry out the first judicial interrogation due to a lack of judicial employees.
The suspect was arrested again by the Judiciary Police yesterday, Wednesday 6, according to a source of the Lusa agency. ‘However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office requested the issuance of a new arrest warrant’, the source explained.
They added: ‘The defendant was detained again yesterday in his area of residence and, on that same day, he was brought before a criminal investigation judge for the first judicial interrogation, who applied the most serious measure of coercion to him: preventive detention’.
In a statement released on August 31, the Judiciary Police announced the arrest of the suspect responsible for at least 20 forest fires that occurred in several parishes in the municipality of Ponte da Barca, district of Viana do Castelo, during the last five months.
These fires occurred between April 9 and August 28, in the parishes of Vila Nova de Muía, Touvedo, Paço Vedro Magalhães, Vila Chã and Lindoso.
During that period of time, these regions were: ‘systematically hit by a simultaneous wave of forest fires, causing alarm among the local population’.
After the release of the statement, in a press conference held that same day, the coordinator of the Braga PJ said that the suspect, a resident in the area, was a construction worker.
António Gomes explained that the suspect was socially, professionally and family-integrated, adding that at the origin of his actions would be: ‘A fascination with fire and the movement of resources in firefighting’.
He revealed that the detainee had no previous criminal record but that in his 12th year of schooling, he was the main suspect in at least 20 fires that consumed 120 hectares of forest located in the area between Ponte da Barca and Lindoso, close to the Peneda Gerês National Park (PNPG).
‘I won’t be able to say if he is one of the biggest arsonists in the country, but the affected area has great potential, and could have caused huge losses. Due to the number of ignitions, which are dozens, his conduct, and his actions were a huge risk’, stressed Gomes.
The Braga PJ coordinator revealed that the suspect had: ‘Provided clarifications about some of the situations, conclusive on some fires’.
Gomes emphasised that the investigation was ongoing, with a strong likelihood of linking this defendant to other fires that occurred in the same area, namely in 2022.
It was the: ‘very high incidence of forest fires’ in that area that led the PJ to launch its investigation. This involved the allocation of: ‘significant human resources’, with the aim of putting an end to this wave of fires.
Several lighters were seized from the suspect, who was not a smoker. A direct flame is thought to have been the alleged way of starting the fires.
They were allegedly started while the man was travelling in his vehicle between the municipality of Ponte da Braça and the Lindoso area, as reported by sicnoticias.pt.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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