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Sunday, October 14, 2012

About That Fire !!!

When all Hell breaks Loose !!!
This was three houses away from our own at 3:30 Monday morning, 24th September, 2012

A few posts ago I reported that my family and I had been chased from our home at 3:15 in the middle of the night by a raging fire that eventually covered 136,000 acres. I also said that in spite of the fire having swirled around and over our house, the house itself does not even have one burn mark on it. I prefer to see this as a modern day miracle that was the work of my family and friends who have crossed over to the other side, and who now function as our guardian angels. It makes me believe in life after death, and it is comforting to know that there is a job waiting for me when I get there.

Well, the scientists never let a good romantic set of beliefs get in the way of the facts, so these folks have explained to me exactly what happened. On the days in question, which were Sunday, September 23rd, into Monday morning , the 24th, we were experiencing something called a Poniente Wind, which in Spain means that the wind is blowing from the west. As it blows across the country in times of high heat, it collects the heat from its travels, and by the time it reaches Valencia on the East coast, which is where we are, it feels like the heat from a giant boiler. Without the fire, the heat from the wind is so intense that everyone usually shields themselves from it.

The wind speed was quite high, and although my wife and I were a bit sheltered, we were wondering whether we had made the right decision to have lunch on our terrace.About 4pm, she noticed a massive plume of dark smoke rising in the west. Apparently, there had been an electrical fault at a power station that may have been caused by the winds, and the fall out from that was probably carried into the nearby trees, again by the wind where a fire started and was very quickly carried away. I was concerned by what I was seeing and I went to find the source.  It was about 16 kilometres from our house, and the wind was blowing it away from us. It was not our turn to panic just yet. However, I was aware that a change in wind direction could be a game changer, so I continued to keep an eye on it.

As I stated in my earlier piece, I had an uncomfortable feeling that grew as time wore on. I checked the location of the fire more regularly, and I found it impossible to sit in one place for long. Finally, I began to think of what I would take if we had to evacuate in a hurry. This was something I had given prior thought to, so all our important papers were in one place. I then took them and put them in the car. I was going through an exercise, I convinced myself, and if not needed I would simply put everything back in its place.

I then thought about what to take in the way of clothing, and I chose both apparel for now and the coming winter, and I packed it in a suitcase, both for myself and for our son who was in Valencia at the time. I placed those in the car. At least I was doing something while at the same time trying to keep an eye on the fire. However, my perspective was limited by the several mountains that stood in my way, and so I could not see that because of a shift in the wind that may have happened only briefly, hot embers had blown from the top of the original mountain and jumped the river and set the hills behind our mountain range alight, and the fire was on its way towards us.

I finally went to bed at 2am, fully dressed, including my glasses, and I just lay there, wide awake, fully expecting something to happen. At 3:15 my neighbour called. "Get out..Quickly!" That was followed by the wailing of a siren. I was ready to go, but I had to wait for my wife to get dressed and packed. During that time I started blowing my car horn. My elderly neighbours wanted to know what was happening and why was I leaving, its not bad. They, nor I, could actually see the fire, but we left them there, and as we drove down our little drive a white van drove the other way. Fortunately for the couple it was driven by a police woman. By that time the couple had started to make a move, but they were moving very slowly and the fire was coming through the trees. The police woman picked up the little lady and plunked her in the van and told the man to get in. But, I have my car, he said. "Get in this car immediately!" she ordered.

Meanwhile, my wife was driving one of our cars and she was in front. Suddenly she stopped. Why on earth are you stopping? To take a picture, because we are not coming back to get the shot. By that time the wind was howling and ash and hot embers were raining down on us, so we beat a very hasty retreat.

I have seen the same thing many times where a fire storm has passed: the fire burns around houses and even barns. I have always given the credit for that to the firemen for having somehow doused the buildings with water or fire retardant, but the truth is something much more simple than that. We experienced a fire hurricane where the winds were so strong that when they collided with something immovable they backed up and created a vacuum, or a bubble around which the winds carried the fire, hence my house was not touched. The winds passed around and over my house, setting alight only my hedges, and in one case we had an archway of spruce, and apparently something hot landed on it and it partially burned, meaning that the wind put the fire out. The tree next to it has since blossomed into bright bell flowers, completely unaffected.

The trouble with this scene is that something that caught fire on the boundary of the property might continue to burn and that fire might  be drawn into the house, as happened with the dwelling behind us, that suffered a small fire to their kitchen, and the house in front that suffered much more extensive burning on the inside.

I mentioned before that a man who should not have been anywhere in the hot zone acted beyond the call of any kind a public duty by scaling our six foot wall, plus the two foot wire fence on top, and the three strands of barbed wire on top of that, and went and put out the fire that was making its way towards our garage. So, we have a genuine hero to be thankful to for saving us a whole lot of aggravation and pain. His name is Rafa, or Rafael, a man I had no idea existed. He could not get in touch with his father, who is my next door neighbour, so he walked through the police cordon to check on him and the house, and that was what became our salvation.

I was telling someone that I feel so lucky this year that I'm certain that this is the year I will win the first prize in the El Gordo lottery. He said that it seems to him I already have.

Good point!

Copyright (c) 2012  Eugene Carmichael