And then it happened: The Big Bang.
After succesfuly having fought the fires threatening our lush and green valley for over a week, last sunday the worst happened. Hurricane Ophelia was so strong causing the fronts to reignite. The fire moved in a tremendous speed over the land destroying everything on it’s path. Even though the local mayors and civilians tried everything they could by filling their water tanks in the river, soon the flames were too big and the fronts were closing us in from all angles.
I received the call on Sunday midday that one of the firefronts had reignted on our ridge and the flames were already crossing the road. With no Bombeiros present because they were fighting elsewhere and planes that couldn’t fly due to the strong wind, I was preparing for the worst. I tried to be of assistance to those on the front arranging water and trucks and communicating with locals on the ground, but I soon heard that the fire already had reached the houses of my dear friends on top of the mountain. I saw the fire snake moving down into the valley heading for the next village where more friends were living. Around 3pm the internet went down and as quick as I could I disconnected the gas bottles from my kitchens and placed them far away from the house.
I packed the dogs in the car, filled 5L water bottles, took my backpack with torches and some food and drove off. I first tried to escape via an exit road towards the bigger cities but this road was already taken by flames. I drove back up the mountain to try another one, but this one was also blocked. When I reached the third exit over the mountain I saw another firefront moving in, so this was also no option anymore. I decided to go back to the village to seek refugee there, being surrounded by stone houses. The wind was incredibly fierce and our village was closed in by the two firefronts. We were all trapped in the valley and more friends were coming to my village where we arranged a basement for the animals and children. There were huge explosions to be seen and skyscraper high fireballs were rolling down the hills.
We watched the fires from a rooftop and at first it looked like the wind was working in our advantage blowing the fires away from us. While sitting on the roof we had a clear vision over the valley and we knew that all our friends in the neighbouring villages were going through the same horrific event, trying to protect their houses and lives. When one of the fronts crossed the road below us, we knew it was coming for us. In minutes we saw the first building in the village going up in flames, the water lines were already cut off for some hours and people were running up and down with buckets with water from wells to extinguish the embers that were landing on the roofs of other houses.
When the smoke became too thick we went in the basement, putting wet cotton clothes in front of our mouths and trying to close all the gaps to prevent smoke from coming in. The door and walls became incredibly hot and the sound of hurricane fire around us was terrifying. After an hour or so it became quiet and we heard the first voices outside. We went outside and saw two huge buildings 100meter from us still burning but the firefronts had passed us. The entire valley was covered in fires, explosions from cars and houses were still going off, electricity poles were fallen onto the houses and on fire. We heard that the firefront had covered a huge area and was closing in the cities 20km away where many of our friends were hiding.
When daylight came I was happy to see from distance that the canopy of my oak and cherry trees was still there, but I knew I was going to face a lot of death and destruction. The olive orchard with 50 very old olive trees was gone and everything we had build up over the past 1,5 years was burnt to the ground. The oak forest is severely burnt but I think many of them will survive. It gives us again clear evidence that deciduous trees don’t burn like the eucalyptus and pine plantations. Seeing my beloved Birdhouse and cabins turned to ashes was a hard one to swallow, but the most difficult thing for me was to enter the area where the pigs live. I just couldn’t. When I kneeled down in tears too scared of walking towards their pen, I looked to my right and saw two cute faces peeking around the corner. They survived!!! I couldn’t be happier. Because the fires reached us so quick I was’t able to open the door for them, but I am happy now I didn’t because the fire would have trapped them. Now they had found a hiding place under the bush and hammock on a lil patch that was untouched by the flames.
This has been my experience of the horrific night and every day I hear a dozen more. Thousands of people lost their houses and farms, a total area of 440.000 hectares of land is burned to the ground, 48 deaths and still counting. As I have been saying before, this is not a natural disaster. The pulp and paper industry is accountable for it, who want to cover 80% of Portugals forest land in Eucalyptus plantations. We already knew it, but now we literally experienced it over the past days: the big industries walk over dead bodies and it’s them who are responsible for the many deaths, the immense loss of natural resources and the misery of thousands of normal, hard working people. The burns on our skin make us painfully aware what it means when profit is prioritized over people and planet.
Although it’s still surreal to walk through the warzone, I am still optimistic and motivated to fight back and to keep showing what the destructive tendencies of the corporations are about. On behalf of my community in Benfeita valley I am reaching out for help to keep the destructive Eucalyptus companies out and restore the burnt areas to natural forests that not only contribute to a healthy ecosystem and attract wildlife back to the area, but also provide a safe firebreak to prevent a disaster like this to happen again.
With my very knowledgable and beloved friends I have been working for months on a reforestation plan that is ecological, social and financial sustainable. Its a large scale plan to transform the 3000ha in our bowl into a healthy ecosystem where humans and nature co-exist in a mutual beneficial relationship. Now, after the fire, it’s more urgent than ever to get the financial resources in to execute this plan quickly. Not only to provide in work for the locals who lost everything and desperately need it in order to sustain themselves through the upcoming months, but more importantly to keep the Eucalyptus companies out of our area who already, one day after the event, have been knocking on peoples door to buy their burnt land cheaply.
We lost everything, but not all is lost. Please share our story far and wide, because the Western media has turned to silence, in the hope those people who can help providing the resources we need, will find us. Even though internet is still flaky, I am happy to share my story with journalist and I’ll be extremely grateful for impact investors, who care about our natural environment, to reach out in order to guarentee our safety for future generations and that of our planet.
Until then, we’ll keep fighting, uniting and igniting that spark for a better future.
Please help us to rebuild our community. You can help by following this link:
The eagles will fly again, and so do we. <3
(Words by Lynn Mylou, forwarded to us by Nadine).