Written by Lucy Brzoska
Photograph by Inma Sáinz de Baranda in La Vanguardia
Savage wildfires have raged across northern Catalonia in the Alt Empordà, the land of the Tramuntana. This fierce NW wind contributed to the terrifying speed with which the fire spread. It was the reason why on Monday July 25, people in Barcelona, 150 km away, woke to the strong scent of wood smoke. Only when the wind died down could the situation be brought under control. The landscape now smoulders, pallid with ash, filled with the blackened remnants of trees.
The villages caught up in the inferno fought bravely to protect themselves. The young mayor of Darnius remembers his fear when the Tramuntana was driving the flames, comparing the sound to a savage lion-like roaring, and the fire’s implacable advance.
“Trees that had taken decades to grow were burnt down before you could count to three.”
A group of shepherds recounted how they had fled with the flames at their heels, desperately trying to save their flocks. But the sheep became paralysed with fear, and the shepherds saved themselves by jumping into the river.
“You can’t imagine what it was like. It was raining fire. With the sparks, the explosions, and the flames, there was fire everywhere.”
Incredibly, the explosions they referred to were caused by the detonation of at least four bombs, lying abandoned on the hillsides since the Civil War.
Ironically, all the herds of goats and flocks of sheep that perished were part of a traditional system of fire-prevention. But few people make a living from grazing animals or forestry these days, and the unchecked spread of woodland, particularly the fire-loving Aleppo Pine, in a hot dry Mediterranean climate is a disaster waiting to happen. A pertinent article in El Pais by Benigno Varillas calls for more herbivores and the management of a more mosaic type of landscape as a preventative strategy.
In its climate Spain is more Africa than Europe. The savannah woodland teeming with wildlife is more like a dehesa than a dense forest.