The Day That Had Become Night, by Luisa Neves Soares (Text/Edition) and Pedro Sousa Raposo (Photography)

 

It would be another weekend in the interior of Portugal. There were those who were there just for a few days, and those who were always been there. For everyone, that Saturday afternoon would be a point of no return. Now everything has changed.

On June 17, 2017, a fire that seemed to be just another one in a country very used to burn, has become something of a frightening dimension. In that night the first news began to come. There were dead, wounded and missing people, in a number that escalate from hour to hour. On the ground, several teams tried to stop the tragedy and the fire, in a difficult struggle that took five days. On the first night, the strength of the flames closed roads and blocked means, assistance and information. The darkness was lit by a burning mountain. At dawn the smoke took over the landscape, revealing black and squalid silhouettes lined up in a steaming ash mantle. For some of the trees the heat concentration was so high that they collapsed, folding like molten plastic. The smell of burning is intense and the silence is only interrupted by the sirens of the emergency vehicles. Lots of them.

After the fire has passed, it is finally possible to reach to the places and villages surrounded by it. People in shock, disoriented, bodies that appear continuously, cars and houses burned. The escape and disorientation of the previous day drove 64 people to their deaths. The reality and the testimonials impress. Regarding the fire, all refer to the same, that in a few seconds a tornado brought fire, with an intensity and speed like never before. And with the fire came the thick black smoke, that turned the day into night and plunged many people into a dead end. Entire families, children, the elderly, all of them lost in a darkness of fire, that the next day puts in sight in a horrible vision.

Villages with few tens of inhabitants lose 11 of their own, new and old ones.

Cesaltina Silva, from the village of Várzeas, lost herself in the days and tries to face reality. She mourns the fate of her neighbours, worried about the animals they left behind. "Who will cherish them now?”. Her house was a shelter for other people in the village who took refuge there when the fire came and consumed the older houses. The ones who fled from there, like many others from the surrounding villages, did not reach their destination. Many of them perished on road 236-1, now dubbed Death Road, where 47 people died in a desperate attempt to flee, colliding each other with zero visibility and flanked by trees that covered the entire road. The same happened in villages like Nodeirinho, where in the outlets of the village several inhabitants tried unsuccessfully to escape. Who stayed, took refuge in the houses or community tank of the village. There are still people missing and some people still cannot communicate with their relatives.

Electricity, water and communications still do not work on the fourth day of fire, cables and pipes have burned, and the food stored in chillers will inevitably be spoiled.

People are angry. If there are places where there was help to fighting the fire, in others, they were left to themselves and not knowing what to do. Now, after the worst has passed, they are still alone, with insufficient communications and without any source of electricity. The water comes from private mines that guarantee the needs.

Funerals have already begun, as the bodies are being released from the Institute of Forensic Medicine, in a process that is thought to be long and painful.

Populations will eventually return to their lives as best as they can, trying to overcome traumas and obstacles, as they always did. It remains to be seen whether the rest will also return to the same, making again that the lack of forest planing, the lack of clear laws on species and types of plantations permitted, the lack of effective land clearing, or the proximity of the forest to the perimeters of habitation, can return in the future, driven by an intense climacteric phenomenon,and again cause a disaster of these dimensions.

 

 

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Aurora Eiras, 75, describes a "rain of fire" as she has never seen before. Instead of water, flames. Alone, in her partially burned house, she finds refuge in the faith and her saints, who dwell with her in all divisions of the house.

Nodeirinho, a village with 30 inhabitants lost 11. In cars that burned with people inside them or on the road, in a hasty escape that left families dismembered and a feeling of revolt and impotence in those that remained.

The 236-1 road connecting Figueiró dos Vinhos to Castanheira de Pêra was where the largest number of mortal victims were found. 47 people tried in vain to escape from an immense fire that finally enclosed them in a narrow road surrounded by a dense forest, that in a small extension swallowed people and cars.

In Nodeirinho, two families came together in a house to try to escape the fire. The cars were left abandoned at the entrance of the village, on the side of the way, after getting off the road. Smoke did not allow them to see anything. They fled to a house and together, waited for the fire to burn everything.