My daughter and her husband live in rural Catalonia, in the area devastated by the recent fire. The following is their account of being caught in that fire:
By Geode and Stephanie Crystaal
Stephanie and I live in a rural area near the town of Flix, Tarragona county, Catalonia, Spain. We have a herd of goats and a few other animals.
Around 16:00 Wednesday, June 26, Stephanie noticed the sky had turned dark. Upon going outside, we smelled smoke and the sky was brown. We could see black smoke rising on the horizon and checked the latest news updates.
By 16:30 the fire was located near El Torre de Espanyol and had consumed 45 hectares. I thought, “Well, that won´t come here. It´s far away and the bomberos (firefighters) will have it out soon.”
We soon realized that that was not the reality. We started making a plan to take care of ourselves and the goats, dogs, cats, chickens, and a couple of geckos and spiders that live with us. Stephanie`s plan was to get ALL the animals into the house in case the fire did come here.
At about 17:00 we started moving the goats into the house. They were scared and didn`t know what we were doing to them, so it was quite a struggle. We kept at it and we were successful. We got 19 out of 20 goats, 2 dogs, and 1 out of 2 cats into the house. 1 cat and a Billy goat were still missing ...
Stephanie was still on the lower level of the property, trying desperately to save our 5 chickens, when the blaze topped the hill and started coming towards us at windspeeds of 50-60 kph. The flames were high into the sky.
Stephanie got to the house just as the firestorm swept around us. The house got hot and smoky, and the goats were freaking out. Sparks were blowing through the cracks in the door and we heard explosions.
We thought, “Well there goes the car.” Since we couldn´t see through the smoke, we just tried to comfort the goats, keep everything locked up tight and the doors wet, and wait out the fire.
After about an hour, we looked out the windows in total disbelief. The fire had burned and was burning all around us, on the hill immediately behind us, and still very close to one side of the house.
We spent the next couple of hours inside the house, calming the animals and peeking out of the windows, but the smoke made seeing anything almost impossible. After the major blaze was past, I went out and extinguished some small fires on our deck and around the house.
Once everything had calmed and the fire was way past us, we moved the goats outside to the dog run so they could at least have a little scrub to eat.
At 21:00 we heard the siren of an emergency vehicle and a friend calling out to ask if we were ok. We were, as were the animals we had gotten inside. But the chickens Stephanie had risked her life trying to save had died from the extreme smoke.
The police forced us to evacuate immediately, luckily with our car and dogs, but without our cats and goats. We spent a sleepless night at our friend’s house, worrying about our animals. We left after dawn to try to get back to our house and, more importantly, to our animals. They needed water. They needed to be fed. And the mama goats needed to be milked.
But that wasn´t going to happen. The authorities had closed all the roads and wouldn’t let us through.
We had no choice but to go to Flix and try to get Wifi to assess our situation. We were then instructed to go to the school for a meeting with the emergency authorities and the Creu Roja (The Red Cross). We had to register, and we got some water and snacks. We were told we should stay at the school. We weren´t going to be allowed back up to our animals that day. We argued that we had to get back to our animals, but they said it wasn’t allowed.
I don´t like this kind of situations. I felt like an inmate. Stephanie contacted another friend who was more local, and they put us up for the night.
We found out from a neighbor that another neighbor hadn´t been evacuated and was still on the mountain. He gave us his name and phone number, and this wonderful man we had never met agreed to drive down to our place and feed and water our goats.
He called us very late Thursday night to report that they were not only all OK but that we ¨have one out.¨ I asked tentatively if it was the one we couldn´t catch, and by the description it was! He also told us that there was a cat running around. It was our missing one as well!
The generous soul we stayed with let us have a bath and chill out, and made us a great dinner. Unfortunately, stress made it almost impossible for us to eat.
We woke up at 6 AM on Friday. Stephanie had found a map on her cellphone that would lead us to our property by the backroads, around the fire and police blockades. We took off right away--and WE MADE IT!
Our goats needed water and food, and the mama goats’ boobs were so swollen, they needed milking badly.
We were so choked up. We cried because we realized we had saved our friends, our goats, when the authorities would not have helped us or even let us back in until it was too late. They wouldn´t allow anyone back for two full days. The temperatures on Thursday and Friday were in the mid 40´s C (110°F) so the goats badly needed water by the time we got back.
Though it´s pretty depressingly bad, we are safe, we have a place to live, and we saved almost ALL our animals and our house. In that respect it has been a pretty blessed day.
The goats saved the house by keeping the grass short and preferring the vegetation around the solar panels, so there was only dirt there. Literally, the goats saved the house and the house saved the goats!
When we were walking the goats on Sunday, we saw that the tree on the far left side of the porch was actually brown from the heat. If it had caught fire, the whole house would have been gone, with all of us in it.
We didn’t realize just how close we came to burning up, but we had held our bubble of protection steady around the house and all the animals. The fire stopped right before the solar panels and right at the edge of the house on two sides, like where the protective bubble ended.