Posted on October 29, 2017
Dear friends, the past 15th of October was a catastrophic day in Portugal.
Unusual weather conditions, with high heat, low humidity and cyclonic winds and possibly criminal action caused the emergence of forest fires all across the interior and North of the country which spread with unprecedented speed, burning through forests and surrounding villages and towns in a matter of minutes.
There were not enough firemen and other help for all the places that were burning and many villagers were left to fend for themselves.
This is what happened in the village where I was living. In the night of the 15th first came the smoke, then the electricity went out, then a couple of hours later the mobile phone network signal disappeared and I was left with no communication, alone in the middle of the night, in the campground where I was living.
After a couple hours, I could finally see the fire advancing in our direction. It was a surreal sight, the mountains were burning all around me, in a deathly half-circle. I had never seen anything like it. I was mesmerized. It was still many kilometres away, but the size of the flames was daunting and the speed at which it was coming was terrifying.
I spent the night awake watching the fire advance, hoping that someone would remember to come and get me when it was time to run. Finally, I was too exhausted to stay awake anymore and I fell asleep, thinking I would sleep for a couple of hours and wake up again to continue watching the fire. I set up an alarm on my phone. But I didn't wake up when it rang.
I woke up suddenly in the morning with my friend Susana calling me, telling me the fire was very near and I had to come with her immediately. I only had enough time to get my clothes and my computer and go with her. She drove me to the village where she lives, where the fire had come just the week before and burnt the forest all around. Fortunately, no houses were lost. So it was as safe as we could get, not much left to burn there.
Fires blazed in many different villages at the same time. It was coming from all sides and people barely had time to escape and find a safe place. Many houses were lost. 44 people died in the fires.
92% of the forest in the municipality where we live burnt. The future of this region and of thousands of people is unknown.
My daughter's father was able to run for safety in time. His house didn't burn, though others in the same valley did. Several of his neighbours lost everything they had.
For several days we didn't have any phone signal and I did not know where my daughter and her father were. It was a great relief when someone told me they had seen them when they ran and they were safe and also a few days later when I finally got a text message from my ex-partner.
Now there is a very low mobile phone signal and no landline in the village where I am staying. My internet access uses the mobile network, so at the moment my internet connection is so slow that I haven't been able to do much on-line. Even opening my e-mail is an ordeal most of the time. That's why it took me so long to make this update.
My heart goes out to all those who lost their loved ones, their houses or their livelihood to the fires. May we pray for a path forwards and strength in our hearts to face the times ahead.
As for myself, I have to find a new place to live now, I can't go back to the campground where I was staying, which burnt quickly after I left. I already had very few possessions due to financial difficulties and now I have lost some of them in this fire. I need to buy new things in order to survive the winter cold.
I try to focus on the fact that I survived, my baby survived, my friends are still alive and somehow I will find a way to survive another harsh winter in the mountains and continue healing from toxic mold poisoning so that one day I might have a full and vibrant life again and raise my daughter again.