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Thursday, 12 March 2015

Windstorm and Hellfire


The night between Wednesday and Thursday there was a progressive, non-stop wind. It was howling, it came in violent gusts, throwing around all it could get hold of – roof tiles, iron chairs; it uprooted bushes and even trees. The noise it made in the gazebo was terrible; it made sleep a matter of stubborn concentration. Then came morning.
The wind had slowed down a little, but continued. The news on the radio reported serious damages to structures all over the country, particularly in our region. The force of the wind had reached record levels they spoke of 180 km/h gusts (tempest). The sea surface was white.
I went out in the strong breeze. Tiles from the roof had fallen and broken in pieces all over the yard; the roof of the gazebo was torn and hanged in strips that were flying like crazy flags.
I smelled smoke. Oh no… A flurry of ashes was swirling in the air, aided by an angry east wind. No flames were visible. It was a crystal-clear morning, except for the columns of smoke rising from behind the ridge. If the wind didn’t abate, we would be in for a serious forest fire. The water bomber planes weren’t flying, as we were expecting; presumably the weather conditions were prohibitive.
The wind didn’t abate. It blew all day, strong with irregular gusts; still we couldn’t see any flames, just smoke and ashes. Then, after sunset, a reddish line became apparent in the north, behind the ridge. As the sky grew darker, the line became clearer and larger.
The strength of the wind had increased: now big flames became apparent north and north-east; the wooded area bordering our grounds on three sides had caught the fire. It wasn’t the first time that we were witnessing wild fires in the area, but never before had the wind been so strong and the fire front so close to us. The fire-fighters and the volunteers of the civil protection arrived in their Land Rovers. They explained they could do next to nothing because the wind was blowing too hard and the woods were inaccessible on wheels. All they could do was to protect our boundaries.
The fire advanced inexorably. The magnificent pine and oak forest was slowly being eaten up. Now the fire front extended fully east and south east; the crackling was deafening, the smoke stung our eyes. We didn’t dare go to bed despite the firemen’s assurance that we were safe and the flames wouldn’t reach us. We had already packed our things and put the cats in their transporters, in case we should be evacuated. Fortunately we didn’t have to. We dozed off on the sofa.
Morning came. My husband had gone out to check the situation. Our boundaries were blackened, but the fire from north and east had ceased. Our grounds were untouched. The wind was now less strong; the fire front had moved south, away from us, but there the flames were still burning high. Later in the morning the Canadair water bombers and helicopters arrived and started extinguishing the main fires as well as the dozens hotbeds that were smouldering all around.
Taking in the situation of our property, we noticed that the devastation was less evident than we had expected. Many of the forest trees seemed untouched, although some black patches were evident. The undergrowth was all burnt off, however. The terraces above our property were covered in ash, with the black skeletons of the bushes sticking up. The fire had stopped at our borders, because we clear up the undergrowth and keep the ground always clean.

I went out reckoning. The road to the village was party bordered with tall burned out trees; the floor of the forest was white with ash. My heart sunk. It will take generations before the nature takes over again and new trees grow to replace the dead ones. I imagine the fire destroyed an incredible amount of wildlife.
The cause of the fire seems to have happened during the windstorm, when a tree fell on an electric line causing sparks on the dry grass. No arson, apparently.

Is there a lesson to be learned? Maybe that Nature is stronger than humankind; that it has no feeling for its creatures and despite all we can do to protect ourselves, we can never trust it. Or maybe that one should always clear the ground from dry grass and bushes? Time will tell – perhaps.
12th March 2015

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