It started with a bang……..and ended in disaster

A volley of rockets was launched at about 7 am to announce the forthcoming party. It was a beautiful clear morning, albeit rather windy, and I was in the stable preparing liana’s breakfast. As usual she took absolutely no notice of the loud explosions, being interested only in her food.

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Yesterday (Sunday 29 June) the village of Canillas de Albaida celebrated San Juan, with a fiesta at our wonderful picnic and recreation area – La Fabrica de la Luz. As soon as Liana had finished eating I set about making her even more beautiful than normal and plaited her tail and mane ready for David to ride her in the romeria (procession). David likes this type of social riding, whereas I prefer to wander the mountains on our own, so I was very happy for him to be in the driving set for this occasion.

He left to join the assembling villagers whilst I washed off the stable dust and got changed before setting off about an hour later, expecting to be walking alone the few kilometres to La Fabrica. A couple of mountain streams converge here and there is always plenty of water for people to enjoy splashing about. There are various areas with picnic tables and barbecues for use only during the winter months. It is a much loved and well used facility.

Although an extremely hot day there was a strong gusty wind and
as it happened I came across the party after less than a kilometer as the procession of villagers on foot, horses and mule drawn carriages, a couple of vehicles with decorated trailers full of pretty girls all in their flamenco finery, had all come to a stop for the first refreshment break where beers and soft drinks and filled bocadillos were handed out to one and all.

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I still haven’t got to grips with all the many fiestas that the local villages celebrate. On this occasion the statue of San Juan was taken from the church and carried on a beautifully decorated mule drawn cart. It was a charming and happy event with people of all ages making the journey to celebrate an outdoor mass at La Fabrica and then to party. There was music and singing along the way, with one guy who was playing a whistle with one hand and banging a drum with the other, and now and them one of the old guys would break out with a haunting flamenco song. The sense of community in these villages is wonderful and I feel really honoured that I am allowed to join the festivities.

On arrival, the horses were tied up in the shade, those that chose accompanied the icon to an area for the mass where the ladies’ choir, all dressed in their matching flamenco dresses, sang hymns. And then it was time to party. A bar had been set up, mountains of food had been prepared, a canopy of striped tarpaulin had been harnessed between the trees to provide shade, and the giant audio speakers were assembled.

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A (fairly) orderly queue had formed to wait in line for the food (3.50 euros could purchase a huge bowl of braised pork and a beer or soft drink). We were sitting near to the food so were able to be at the front of the queue and managed to start eating before the alcalde (mayor) of the village stood on a level above the crowd and tried to get everyone’s attention. He was eventually able to announce that a serious fire had broken out near to the village and that everyone must leave the area straight away as there was a danger of being trapped by the fast spreading fire that was being driven in all directions by the strong hot winds.

The last photo shows the first sight of smoke rising above the mountain.

The last photo shows the first sight of smoke rising above the mountain.

Our village is on the very border of the Parque Natural, a vast protected area of pine forest and scrub land. We were told by a Guardia Civil officer that the fire had started on the goat track, only a couple of hundred meters from our house. We had the horse and the dog with us and were sure that the cat would look after herself, but I was very concerned for my neighbour who has a riding stable with probably 15 or more horses, so whilst David rode back to the village I got a lift up to my neighbour’s house to see if she needed any help.

The smoke and flames were alarmingly close and there were many helicopters and planes dumping water on the various areas of fire which was spreading in the gusty wind. Fortunately for us (although of course very unfortunately for others) the wind took the flames away from our property and towards Cómpeta.

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The helicopters were sounding sirens and buzzing to and fro to Lake Vinuela to fill their giant buckets with water and empty it on the flames. There were also water collecting planes and reconnaissance craft and personnel carrying helicopters dropping firefighters at the scene. Reports say that there were seventeen aircraft in total working from about 2pm on Sunday and still operating this afternoon (Monday) at 5pm dropping water up behind our property.

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Several of my friends were among the 500 evacuated during the afternoon from housing developments high above Cómpeta and I have heard that three properties were completely gutted in the area of Cruz del Monte. As far as I am aware there was no human casualty although I don’t know if any domestic animals were caught in the blaze, but I have seen a photograph of a dead ibex. The fire was very close to the town of Cómpeta and apparently there were warnings to be aware of many snakes in the area that have been coming out of their normal habitat to seek shelter from the heat. Ash was said to be falling as far away as Nerja on the coast.

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A control centre was set up from where the fire fighting operation was directed and monitored. The disaster was reported nationwide on many TV channels and in the press, and even in the Telegraph newspaper in the UK. It was reported that the fire had been brought under control at 9 pm

After dark the mountainside was lit up like a Christmas tree with pockets of fire. An amazing sight that I have only seen by photograph.

The two sets of photos above have been taken by Facebook friends

The two sets of photos above have been taken by Facebook friends

I walked the dog at 7:30 this morning and took the goat track towards Cómpeta to take a look at the damage done there. I saw these firefighters descending from the mountain after a long hard night protecting us, and another group taking a break high above me. And the helicopters had started dumping water again.

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It makes sense to me that the fire did start in this area, it was directly bordering the much used path that connects the two villages. It would not have travelled in this direction from elsewhere because the wind was gusting the opposite way. I have heard a rumour that someone was clearing some land with a strimmer and when refilling, the petrol ignited. It is a feasible explanation but I am sure there will be many such rumours over the coming days and weeks.

From the goat track this morning. Many olive trees look as though they might survive, but the olives don't look too healthy!

From the goat track this morning. Many olive trees look as though they might survive, but the olives don’t look too healthy!

We drove to the Fabrica this afternoon, rather belatedly, to see if any clearing up was needed. The place was spotless, with no sign of the abruptly abandoned party. Helicopters were still dumping water at 5pm and we could see the devastation high up in the natural park. It is reported that around 100 hectares (250 acres) of land on the edge of the Sierra Almijara have been affected.

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All is quiet now at 7 pm and I haven’t heard any aircraft engines for a while. Hopefully all is well and truly under control and our supremely brave firefighters can have some well earned rest.

About magwood

Trepidatious Traveller - camino blog is about preparing for and walking the Camino de Santiago. Many future pilgrims have found the blog useful and inspiring, and many who have no plans to walk the camino have simply enjoyed the dialogue http://www.magwood.me
This entry was posted in A view of life, Expats in andalucia, Horse riding in the mountains of andalucia and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to It started with a bang……..and ended in disaster

  1. Interesting post about an unfortunate event.

    Like

  2. martinandbethjackson says:

    Scary, arn´t they,these campo fires.We often get them in the Algarve but they tend to devestate far more area than in Spain. For sure we do not have so much fire fighting facilities,I´ve seen helicopters,but never planes, The bombeiros, however, are tremendous and equally dedicated to their jobs as our Spanish neighbors. Glad their was no major loss. Martin

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    • magwood says:

      We were lucky Martin. I witnessed the result of last year’s forrest fires north of Lisbon, where there was loss of life. We all have huge respect for the bombeiros.

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  3. This is the sort of thing you dread happening, you were lucky! Great post and photos,

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    • magwood says:

      Thanks Cath, we were all very lucky, thanks to the efforts of the fire fighters.

      I hope you had a smooth move to Portugal and have settled in comfortably.

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      • Yes it was smooth (as smooth as it can be!) and we are slowly settling into village life again. After 5 years living in a busy city it’s a complete, but wonderful, contrast. I like to support our local fire service here as they are all volunteers, not sure about in Spain, is it a similar situation?

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      • magwood says:

        Our local guys are all part time, not sure if they get paid, they seem to double as park rangers to clear the land from time to time. They all works tirelessly to get this fire under control.

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  4. Grania Collard says:

    A wonderful account of a terrifying event …I understand these fires are a constant worry in the summer ! So glad there was no loss of life…x x

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    • magwood says:

      Thanks Grania. We are all very aware of the dangers, but there are always stupid or devious exceptions who put everyone else at risk. Hopefully this was an accidental incident – although I’m not sure if we will ever find out.

      Like

      • Sue says:

        Hi, I remember last year that
        sporadic but lesser fires were reported as arson locally – they said a cigarette lighter was always found close by. We recently sold our house in Las Colmenillas which was evacuated and feel we had a lucky escape. We can only sympathise with the damage done to such a beautiful area. We wondered if the horses were OK so good to hear that they were, hope they were not too traumatised.

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      • magwood says:

        Hi Sue, was your’s the first terraced house? I used to work with Streen and Lisa, so would have been in the house from time to time.
        The horses were fine. They are so used to all the celebratory explosions that nothing much fazes them, and the smoke and ash was being blown in the opposite direction.

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  5. Wendy Kate says:

    Yes, it’s horrible to see the fires, very scarey, we have not had any too near to us but have seen them on the mountains and seen the water helicopters filling up at the river here. Glad it got under control.

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  6. Pat and John says:

    So glad you are all safe and well, how very frightening for everyone……one never quite knows what the outcome might be when it is all happening.
    With our love P & J xxx

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    • magwood says:

      It all depends on the wind……luckily in our favour this time.

      Hope you are both fit and well and enjoying the early summer.
      Lots of love xx

      Like

  7. Sean says:

    Hi Magwood,
    Scary when you see the full extent of the damage caused by the fire. Good that no one was hurt. What date is the re-scheduled party?
    Great coverage, you should write a weekly magazine piece for the Forum.
    Thank you,
    Sean

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    • magwood says:

      There won’t be time to reschedule the fiesta before the next one takes place. The Spanish certainly know how to enjoy themselves!
      Do you have any ideas how a forum magazine piece might work? Interesting idea. I’m sure Leslie would be open to suggestions

      Like

  8. lynharrison4wind says:

    Many thanks, Maggie, for such a well reported and detailed account. From afar it allowed us to join up the dots of all the many sporadic reports of the fire. Terrible to see the devastation caused and know that it will be 30 years and more before the fragile vegetation recovers. Relieved that you and Eve-Marie are safe and well along with all the animals. Also a relief to learn that our house is indeed located upwind from the seat of the fire, which is what we hoped but had no confirmation of until now. Our thoughts are with Steen and Lisa. That was a close call. Not quite such a lovely day in Paradise, but a million thanks to the dedicated and brave firefighters.

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    • magwood says:

      Karin and rob were also evacuated. I am very interested to go for a ride into the park to see what it looks like, but dreading it at the same time. I think the closest it came to us was the ridge at ‘beehive corner’ and also from the gully towards the picnic point. Two complete ridges look to be completely burned out. I shall leave it a while before I venture in – I expect it will be very dusty and smelly for a while.

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  9. AMSimoes says:

    Hello Mag

    We were in Portugal we have the same scourge of fires.
    Fortunately the government banned the launching of rockets in the summer. But forests are not cleaned by the fires continue.
    A kiss.
    AMSimoes

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    • magwood says:

      Hi Aurelio. In our area the Forrest rangers do keep sections of the land clean and they maintain many fire-breaks. But the pine forests are so volatile and the wind was very strong. We are lucky to be situated between the Mediterranean Sea and a large lake so there is plenty of water for the fire fighters to collect.
      Lovely to hear from you x

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  10. Glad there were no human casualties and hopefully of animals as well. Fire is scary. It has a mind of its own. 🙂 Thank you for all the pictures.

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  11. What a drama! And before I read on I had been thinking what a lovely job you made of your horse’s tail! Glad you’re all ok.

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  12. Marianne says:

    Excellent report, Maggie. It sure was a scary day!

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    • magwood says:

      All quiet today, thank goodness. I might take a ride into the park at the end of,the week to see the damage close up – or maybe I shall walk first, that would be safer.

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  13. Pingback: Wildfires in Spain: What you should do | East of Málaga

  14. Lucid Gypsy says:

    How frightening.

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  15. annieh61 says:

    Have only just read this as have been in France with patchy wifi for a month. The photos and your description tell the story of a really frightening and threatening event. What heroes firefighters are!

    Like

    • magwood says:

      Welcome back Annie – I have missed you. Hope you had a great time in France and you are now fully recovered. Last year I was aware of the bruising on my heels for a couple of months and even longer before I got feeling back in a couple of toes. No problems this year thankfully.

      Yes, it was a traumatic day, much more so for those whose homes were surrounded by fire and had their gardens wiped out. Devastating. And it has been declared an ‘intentional’ fire. I can’t begin to imagine what goes on in some people’s heads.

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  16. Susan.A says:

    Very interesting. Glad to hear there were no casualties. I was in Nerja when this happened and the ash did indeed reach us above Burriana, my balcony was covered….took me a while to fathom what it was!

    Like

    • magwood says:

      Hi Susan. Thanks for visiting the blog. I will get around soon to writing a post about how it looks up in the natural park a few months on – quite bleak really! Do you live permanently in Nerja, or were you on holiday?

      Like

      • Susan.A says:

        Hi! Yes I was on holiday. I have family who live just above Penoncillo & they also own an apartment on Chiminea which I visit 3 or 4 times a year. I was back out in September & walked from Frigliana to Acebuchal, our guide pointed the area out and indeed it did look quite bleak! I love Nerja and the surrounding area and try to explore more on each visit. Comares was a new one for me in September & planning my first trip to Malaga city when back out for New Year.

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