Monday, 20 August 2012


Everything beyond the crest of the hills surrounding the ecohouse has burned. Woods of cypress trees interspersed with Mediterranean pines, and oak, underbrush of juniper, cistus, wild orchids, roses - all blackened ash.  The animals that made it out look at us from our woodland, seeking water and resting places.  And we were lucky.  The wind drove the fire away from our woods to devour hectares and hectares of classic Tuscan landscape the other side of the hills.  We can't even see the devastation just over our skyline - but we can smell it.

All day long the firefighters, the Canadair, the helicopters, gouged fire breaks through  secolare landscapes, emptied every site with standing water (the Arno is dry from bank to bank) every swimming pool, as the spotter planes circled, looked for fresh outbreaks.  People were being evacuated from settlements and farms, and we were checking that we had everything important and the Landie keys on the shelf by the door ready to take the back route to the village through the olive groves on the  rough white  roads, so painstakingly restored over the last decade.

The sky was black with smoke and underlit by the flames, with a shimmering in the air from the heat.  What we didn't realise was the sky was black too from  an enormous thunder cloud that burst over the whole nightmare of burning effort and lives, of men and animals.  It hadn't rained since last June but water sluiced down so hard and so cold it hurt to be under it.  Which we weren't as soon as the lightning started landing in what felt like the garden.  So the fires were doused, the roads turned to river beds and we couldn't have got out then because of the mud. 

Where that rain came from with such force is unexplained to non-meteorological mortals (and Angels).  The blasting heat is back and the woods have dried again to tinder-boxes.  The fire was set deliberately, as are most.  Someone knows who did that and, I am told, their family will be made to pay - not by the magistrates and other authorities but by a threatening (and so  threatened) community.  I'm unsure which is the more scary: the burning of the countryside or the burning of the whole extended family of the fire-setter.


Nick Drew said...

all very biblical, HG

and you are spared

and we are relieved

Sackerson said...

Is this one of those periodic things like in California?

Weekend Yachtsman said...

You seem very sure that the fire was set deliberately. Is this because once the woodland has gone, one can get permission for residential development?

If it's not some scam of that sort, I would be tempted to say that a tinder-dry landscape with blazing sunshine, probable glassy litter here and there, and - God help us - mighty lightning strokes flying about, is pretty likely to go up in smoke before too long.

But you're there and you seem sure.

Just wondering.

hatfield girl said...

The fire marshals are volunteers from the neighbourhood - all of them hunters and from families who have lived here for ever. They know every centimetre of this countryside and every person; they're probably on nodding terms with every animal.

If they say the fire was set then it most certainly was, Yacht. My father in law once explained to me why the countryside is quite hard to set alight accidentally: it's well kept, the woods are clean, people take care to keep them so, including the hikers and passers-through, there is constant surveillance during the hot months. This is not wild, abandoned country - more a gigantic park with cultivated gardens and vineyards and olive groves. All the woods are farmed for mushrooms, berries, wood itself; game don't like wild woodland either. Since we came back our woodland has been steadily returned to a decent
condition. Fires are almost always by the mad or the bad. Not least those seeking the contracts to re-forest burned woodland. In the south they burn for building land but permissions would never be given here after a fire.

Reams could be written about fire setting and its reasons, economic and social and personal. I suppose that's why it tends to be dealt with informally within the community. Much of fire prevention is knowing who has issues with whom or is looking for an easy economic opportunity.

hatfield girl said...

Lovely little word 'and' ND.

Don't know anything about California, S.

Elby the Beserk said...

Many forested areas in hot countries burn regularly. All the recent fuss in Colorado was because a)housing had been built where fires regularly occurred & b) poor forestry had enabled fire to move faster when started.

Indeed, some trees *need* fire to germinate. Forests and fires go together; our hubris in thinking that we can and have tamed nature means that even without the menace of the accidental and intentional fire starter, forests and woods in certain climes will always go up in flames.

Glad you are OK, HG. In the great drought of '76, my ex and I were living in Lythe, just North of Whitby, on the very edge of the North Yorks Moors.

We woke up one morning with the house full of smoke; as soon as we had made sure that the house was not on fire, we realised the world was full of smoke. Some eejit walker had dumped a fag, it was reckoned. Result - the peat burnt down all the way - 5 metres in places - slowly, and for months.


dearieme said...

If you hate fire the place to live is in British broad-leafed woodland. It's unburnable. This may be little consolation to Terrified of Tuscany, though.