Monday, 16 October 2017

Burning pain

It’s a deeply troubling feeling to wake up in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke. That’s what happened in the early hours of this morning, though, in our house. The unmistakable smell of burning filled the house, and for a few moments we wondered if our home was on fire.

It turned out, though, that it was Galicia itself which is burning. The whole village, dark as it was, was wreathed in a smoky haze. Two minutes outside and our hair and clothes stank of smoke. There are already forest fires all over the area - the city of Vigo in particular being aflame in spectacular and horrifying manner, but the one we passed through this morning is the closest yet to our home. 

We had to get up at 5am anyway, to make the journey to Valladolid. It’s just as well we did, because the first part of the drive we were greeted by these scenes, and not more than half an hour after we passed, the road had to be closed as the flames reached the very edge of the road itself.

These images give an idea of what we drove through this morning, and it's got much worse since. As I type, we’re all too aware that the fire is growing, and getting ever closer to our home village. Already it threatens a smaller pueblo a short distance away, and we’re feeling anxious, though we ourselves are not there. 

One really troubling thing about these fires is that they’re so widely agreed to have been set, at least in some cases, deliberately. Of course the two-year drought that Galicia is currently suffering has a lot to do with it, but the region’s government has openly stated that their ‘principal hypothesis’ is that the fires are man-made, the starting sites chosen carefully. The reasons for this are so clouded in gossip and speculation that it’s difficult to see clearly what the truth may be, but certainly a similar case in Italy resulted in the arrest of six firefighters recently. It was so widely believed to be the case anyway, before any such comment was made official, that this is one of those things that’s become fact in the retelling, whether it’s correct or not. I’ve certainly heard it said by plenty of people in the last few months anyway.

The map of where the fires are in Galicia right now shows the scale of the task facing a firefighting force depleted, according to members of that same force, by cuts and stretched by the widespread nature of the problem. There simply aren’t enough men, aren’t enough fire trucks, aren’t enough helicopters and isn’t enough water to fight them effectively. (We’ve just heard, for example, that the effort to combat ‘our’ fire has been opened to anybody who feels able to give them a hand. Can you imagine that in Britain?)

Galicia, usually so green and beautiful, is becoming a charred ruin of its former self. There is, after months without a drop of it, rain forecast for tonight and the next few days. It’s come too late to help many people already. We can only hope it comes soon enough to help Viana.

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