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Fire at Quinta da Mizarela

I will write several blog posts to document the fire of Oct 14th and 15th and the aftermath.

PART 1 - THE DAY OF THE FIRE  

Unfortunately the home of ALP, Quinta da Mizarela is in constant fire danger every year.  We had been relatively lucky until Oct 15th, 2017.

10 days before at the beginning of October we woke up to a red sky and we knew we needed to evacuate.  We packed what we could, put the animals in carries, moved gas bottles away from the buildings, loaded the cars and went to the top of the track to wait and see what would happen.  We had fire around us, the skies were red but there was no wind.  After waiting for about 6 or 7 hours it was clear we could go back down the hill and rest. We took turns watching to make sure things didn't change.  The next days there were planes coming through our valley to drop water on the fire.  Firemen were everywhere.

The area around us was badly damaged and there were many 'hot spots'.  We took turns along with many others in the area making sure fires would not reignite.  Laura, David, Raquel and I were on one such mission when we came over a ridge where we could see fire coming down the mountainside over a village called Mount Frio.  It was extremely hot and we had 50 mph winds.  Off the shore of Portugal there was a hurricane in the Acores and we were on the outer rim of this hurricane so with the high temperatures and winds we felt urgent to move quickly.  Fire was coming from 3 different directions at this point and we were worried the roads down the mountains would be cut off.

I raced back to the Quinta to tell Pete, Sandra and Joel (they were visiting and are part of the project) and Inga (volunteering at that time) that we had to go.  My adrenaline was pumping.  So we did what we did 10 days before and gathered the animals, our belongings and moved the gas bottles away from the buildings.  But this time it was a bit different.  I felt less focused and now I realize I felt more fear because of the size of the fire and the high winds.  Raquel and I stayed at the top of the track as Pete and David went to get more things.  As Raquel and I stood there we were watching the fire coming over the mountain, it was very scary.  Eventually Pete and David returned and we called for Laura but she wasn't ready yet and told us to go on.

We were 4 people, Sam the big dog, Lola and Tux in one cat carrier and Cosmos in another cat carrier.  We were in 4 different cars.  As I drove down through Benfeita (small village 2 km from the quinta) I kept telling people they had to leave as they are in a valley and couldn't see the fire coming from Mt Frio.  As I exited Benfeita every little valley I looked up was on fire.  Even now as I type this I have tears in my eyes as it was the last time I saw the lush green of the area.  We all came to a place where we could turn right or left.  The police were guiding us right and it looked like whatever the direction the sky was bright red.  We headed through Coja (the next small village before we would get to the highway).  I felt that we had to hurry or we wouldn't make it.  

We all met at a roundabout by the highway waiting for others.  We ended up meeting up with more members of ALP (Ricardo and Teresa and family) and neighbors.  One neighbor arrived 10 minutes after us and they couldn't take the road that we went on because it now had fire all around it.  They were routed through the road that was closed and had fire on both sides but they made it.  

We felt we were safe at this point.  Joel, Sandra and Inga decided to head toward Coimbra.  Pete, Raquel, David and I thought to stop and rest at a local restaurant and then continue on. 

Within about 30 minutes Joel, Sandra and Inga were back at the restaurants.  The road to Coimbra was surrounded by fire.  We got online to see where we could go.  All roads were closed so we went to the biggest town around which was Tabua.  There we again met up with others from ALP and our local neighbors.  Pete, Sandra, Joel, Inga and I (in 3 different cars) thought to try to get out by going through another highway.  We made it to the turn off for Santa Combo Dao and we were met with more fire.  It was at that moment I knew there was no where to go but back to Tabua.

We stayed in a park until the smoke was too bad to stay.  We ended up on the floor of the garage at the Bomberios (fire department).  They were amazing trying to make us as comfortable as possible.  We stayed there all night.  Cats were in the car close by, Sam with us snoozing on the floor with us.  We were given masks to help with the smoke.  Firemen were coming in and out.  They were truly heroes as they were so exhausted, eyes burning from the smoke, some had hands and arms wrapped where they had been burned.  They would stay for 20 minutes or so and then go back out, again and again.

The next morning things seemed to be under control.  The people at the Bomberios surprised us with chocolate croissants, cheese sandwiches and more. We were all exhausted.  Walking around the streets seeing people we hadn't seen.  Everyone asking if they had seen so and so or wanting to know if our land was ok.  Some people knew their houses were burned, some had no idea.  Some were split from their families with no form of communication available as cell phone service was down.  Looking back on it now we were all in shock and all boundaries between us were gone.  We were happy to see each other and hugged people we didn't know very well.  It was an amazing experience, very raw and strangely sweet.

We were told the roads back to the quinta were closed so we went to our sister community Avidanja in a convoy of about 6 or 7 cars.  Avidanja is about 1h30min from us. Halfway there, around 5pm on Monday Oct 15th we got a phone call from someone that told us the quinta was now on fire.  It had survived the night but with the strong wind it was now burning.  We were devastated as at that point we thought the WHOLE quinta was burning. Pete and I walked away for a few moments and let in what we had just heard.  I will never forget this moment. Arriving at Avidanja we looked like a group of refugees.  We were met with open arms, food and so much love.  We heard more stories of people all over Portugal that also were hit by fire. It was later that night we got the call that the buildings at the quinta had survived!

On the 14th and 15th fires raged all over Portugal.  Many were intentionally set as is always the case.  There were not enough help to cover all the areas that were on fire.  In our local area there were no planes, there were no firemen.  There was no reliable communication so sometimes we were sent places that we were told they were safe only to find out we were heading into fire.  For those who stayed in our local village they were fighting the fires with garden hoses, sometimes putting their hands over holes to keep the water flowing.  They eventually hid in houses and in the church.  43 people died in the fires around us.  No one from our local village died.

We woke up the next day after a restless night of "no sleep".  We got ourselves together and Pete, David, Raquel, Ricardo and Teresa drove back toward home. Ricardo and Teresa went to their place and the rest of us to the quinta to see what was left.  The ride was devastating as 15 or 20 minutes after leaving Coimbra we were surrounded by burned land, buildings, trees.  And this was just the beginning.

We did a Go Fund Me campaign if you would like to make a donation AND you can go there and read all the updates as they were happening.  The update button is halfway down the page.

 

 

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About the project

The Awakened Life Project is situated in a beautiful and wild ecological reserve in the mountains Central Portugal. We offer volunteer programs, courses, events and retreats to support the liberation of the human spirit in a context of evolutionary emergence and communion with the ecological web of life.

Contacts

Quinta da Mizarela
3305-031 Benfeita
Portugal

info@awakenedlifeproject.org
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