Wednesday, 30.09.2020
 Daily news from the Canaries and the islands' biggest English language newspaper on-line
Daily news from the Canaries and the islands
   Daily news from the Canaries and the islands' biggest English language newspaper on-line

By Barbara Belt
The Imada six
The recent fires in La Gomera have left over 4,100 hectares blackened, 25 per cent of the Garajonay National Park destroyed and islanders bereft and angry at the ineptitude of island authorities.

© Jos Luis Hernndez

01.09.2012 - The head of the Cabildo firefighting services was, incredibly in this highest of fire risk months, on holiday! The long delay in declaring this a Level 2 fire, which would have passed responsibility to regional government and brought faster help from firefighting planes, allowed the wildfire to spread unchecked. When the crucial declaration was finally made about 9.30pm on the Saturday, it was near nightfall and too late for the planes to leave the Spanish peninsula until the following morning luckily they had been put on prealert by the Minister of the Environment. Planes arrived the following evening, but couldn't operate in the dark, leaving the fire to burn unchecked for the night. Much of the terrible damage done could have been avoided, had La Gomera's Cabildo acted promptly. There will now follow an outbreak of finger pointing and excuse-making but, on the positive side, as details of what happened during the drama circulate on the grapevine and social networks, some extraordinary stories are emerging. Apart from the bravery of local teams of young, non-professional, summer fire prevention crews, as reported here last issue, there are other stories being told. Interestingly, most have something to do with islanders ignoring official orders and staying put, or moving into prohibited areas, to fight the fire alone and in family groups. One such case involves the men already referred to as the Imada Six, and this is their story. The hamlet of Imada is in Alajer. Its less than a hundred inhabitants live in houses grouped at the end of the small, winding road in. They were some of the first to notice the fires, as one started just over the ridge above them at about two on a Saturday afternoon, when most of them were considering a post-lunch siesta in the shade to escape the thirty-four degree heat. Villager Laudelino Mesa Ramos takes up the story. At around two fifteen, a small fireball started blazing up on the hill behind the houses. It didn't look too serious. We were startled, but we thought it was a small fire, easily put out. Then, before we could get there, the flames suddenly spread downhill. The main problem villagers had was the wind. It was hot, increasingly strong, very changeable and difficult to predict, confirms Laudelino. In response to repeated calls for help, only the Guardia Civil arrived on the scene, telling everyone to evacuate as quickly as possible. Isidro Ramos was forced to leave his goats, sheep and pig. I was going to let them loose, but the Guardia Civil told me I had to leave immediately. Then when I tried to go back, they wouldn't let me, he laments. People were understandably reluctant to leave. Laudelino and five others, all members of the same extended family, decided to defy the evacuation order and stay put. We refused to go. They told us to get out and abandon everything, our homes, our animals, our crops...but there was nobody, nor any prospect of anybody coming, to protect it all, so it would have been madness to do that, wouldn't it? If we had gone, as we were told to, all the houses in the village would have burnt, adds Ramn Jesus Quintana. While the rest of the villagers left, Laudelino, Ramn Jess, Valeriano and Sebastin Mesa and two cousins organized themselves with hoses and buckets to fight the flames, which by then were spreading fast. Their objective at that point was to, stop the fire reaching the village, even if we couldn't put it out. They worked on through what was left of the day, with the fire spreading around the village and the group furiously trying to save possessions, but the situation worsened. The flames produced so much heat the water pipes burst, so we couldn't use hoses, which was a real disaster. We'd sent out calls for a water truck, as we needed a high pressure hose for burning palm trees, but it never arrived. We filled buckets with water from irrigation tanks and carried on. By then, we were trying to save our lives, because we were surrounded. It would have been possible with more people, but we were on our own until some lads from Alajer's volunteer firemen arrived. When it got dark, the wind picked up and we knew we were in for it. We just carried on, there was no time to think. Flames lit the barranco. We were at it all night long. By next morning, the fire was inside the village, so all we could do was try to protect the houses. But, gradually, it became apparent that, as Ramn Jess says, it hadn't all been for nothing. Somehow, we'd done it. We saved the houses, although we didn't save that recently built place, which burnt out. Storerooms, sheds, crops and animals were lost. There was nothing we could do, we concentrated on the houses. There weren't enough of us, laments Valeriano. Isidro Ramos' animals, shut in their pens, perished in the fire, as he knew they would. When the worst was over, the group went to Alajer, where an emergency medical and reception centre had been set up for evacuees. All needed treatment for burns, eye injuries and raw throats, sustained during their fifteen hour battle with the fire. When Island Connections heard their stories, the men were exhausted but happy to be alive and wearing patches over injured eyes. Incredibly, only Sebastin needed hospitalization for eye damage, but was later released. Valeriano, when asked about the risk they took in staying to fight the fire, posed this question in reply: and if we'd lost everything, what then? Why shouldn't people protect their own? We've always done it. The world's gone mad. Images by: Jos Luis Hernndez

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