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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Tenerife Fire: the evacuation and aftermath

As I'm writing this, there are helicopters circling over the Teno mountains every few minutes, so we imagine that the fire must have reactivated again nearby. You may have deduced from the international media reports (most of which bear little resemblance to the truth) and my absence, I was one of the thousands in Tenerife who were evacuated because of the forest fires. And here I will make a couple of public personal thanks, first to Jack and Andrea Montgomery of Real Tenerife Island Drives, who kindly put this "refugee" up in their own home. Please buy lots of copies of their guides to pay for all the food I ate! :)

Secondly, if you should ever find yourself in need of urgent temporary hotel accommodation for your animals in Tenerife (dogs, cats, parrots, iguanas, tortoises, rabbits and more), I can thoroughly recommend the Hospital Veterinario Tenerife Norte, who looked after my "furry tribe" of four cats and a dog for the night.

The other saint of animalsApart from the fact that our lovely vet, Dr. Ana, one of the owners and founders of the hospital, approved a "numerous family" discount, even on such short notice, their handling of me, under well, shall we call them, reasonably stressful circumstances, was reassuring and marvellous: something I really appreciated too.

Evacuation: We were woken up here in the higher part of the El Palmar valley; Las Portelas and Las Lagunetas at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, when the Civil Guard were going door-to-door telling people to leave.

The sky above the mountains at the head of the valley was vivid red against the darkness and the fire looked to be in danger of coming in this direction.

The larger risk was the smoke, which was getting quite strong already while we were all outside damping down houses and surrounding plants and trees in an attempt to make them less flammable. Fortunately, the wind changed and took the fire back the other way, but if winds can change once, they can do it again and it could so easily have been much worse for us.

The fires have left us without DSL at times here, as John at Sorted Sites points out, that the fires "caused some of Telefonica's ADSL internet servers to go down, leaving many people without internet access."

Masca Village Destroyed

The emblematic and picturesque village of Masca, which is just over the mountains from here, was not as fortunate as we were and, we are still scratching our heads over how the fire could get down into that valley.

Reports vary widely between 4 houses burnt to the whole village having been turned to ashes, but frankly we do not know what is the real situation yet. Yesterday, the roads to Masca were still closed: they would not even let local inhabitants through to give food and water to the animals that have survived and have been without both for days. As you will see from this video though, the lower estimates look to be rather over optimistic:

Everyone in this valley has family or friends in Masca, who will probably have lost everything. An article in El Dia talked of the desolation and lists amongst others affected, an English girl, named as Susana, who has lived with her partner, Calvin, for 16 years in a house that they built themselves. The reports says that, having contained a lot of wood, it burnt completely.

The news about another English girl, married to an Italian, and who had only recently bought a house in Masca in the last 6-7 months and that they are restoring as a rural hotel, we are hoping at this point is better. Reports are that their house has escaped the flames and that their goats - which came from my friends Gregorio and Fernanda - are safe and sound.

If the international media coverage of the fire has been awful, the local media coverage, with one notable exception, has been not much better. That exception is Canarias7, who put together a special on the fire, including good use of Google Maps to show the area affected by the fire, which was started near Icod el Alto.

Francis at Television Daute in Los Silos was doing the best he could to bring live information on Tuesday, but his efforts were seriously hampered, because phone lines were out there and he had no links to his cameras in the affected areas. On Wednesday morning, the larger local stations were showing what happened on Tuesday still, only they weren't making that entirely clear, so one had absolutely no idea how things were progressing. In particular, I had no idea if I was allowed to return home, the town hall weren't manning phones and I had to phone a neighbour in the end to find out.

When I did come home on Wednesday, there was still a strong smell of "barbecued" pine in the air. Since coming home, I don't think I've been off the phone for long and we're all suffering "post traumatic stress" here, because we're all sniffing for burning smells and looking into the sky, temporarily worried that a grey cloud behaving like smoke could indeed be smoke.

Besides that, the helicopters continued to circle today, collecting water from the reservoir at Las Portelas here in the El Palmar valley, roughly once a minute. That seems too frequent for a simple cooling exercise, which adds to the concern. From there, they seem to be dropping the water over the area of Los Carizales, between here and what's left (if anything) of Masca.

For certain this fire is something that nobody here will forget in a hurry.
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