A lady in a hat carries a basket full of pretty potatoes. It stops in the middle of the road that crosses the mid-range nucleus of Las Llanadas, in the Tenerife municipality of The Realejos, and sighs. “Oh my mother!” she laments as she looks up at the plumes of smoke beginning to spread up the Tigaiga hillside. It is 12:00 noon and the fire heads towards the Orotava Valley from Los Campeches, the origin of the fire that has destroyed more than 2,165 hectares of forest in just three days. “I was born here, I am over 80 years old and I have never experienced anything like this,” she acknowledged yesterday in a hurry, on her way home, with some potatoes that in the end she could not cook.
“If it were cleaner, there wouldn’t be so many fires,” this resident of Las Llanadas repeated with concern.. «I never saw the fire go down there, neither in 1983 nor in 2007, never in my life. Oh God! », he assured without stopping, looking every so often at a hillside that until yesterday was green and leafy, a redoubt of pine and laurel forest to the west of the Valley of La Orotava, a natural region where some 110,000 people live in three municipalities different.
With a slight limp, without letting go of the basket of potatoes, this realejera returned to her house while her neighbors passed at full speed along the road, many with horse trailers, on their way to their farms and tool rooms, located closer and closer to her. the threat of a fire that during Thursday and a good part of Friday seemed to move away to the west. The change in the wind that occurred on Friday afternoon pushed back the flames, which returned from La Guancha and San Juan de la Rambla towards Los Campeches, with such force that the now questioned firebreak that was supposed to protect the hillside that was rise over Chanajiga.
Around one in the afternoon, staff and mayors of the Los Realejos City Council, the Local Police, the Civil Guard and the National Police began to communicate to the residents of the areas closest to the hillside who had to leave their houses with the essentials. Many had anticipated and Las Llanadas was, from the morning, a coming and going of loaded vehicles, especially with horses, dogs and other farm animals. A few hours after lamenting, when the hillside was already a real hell, the potato lady left in a granddaughter’s car to the house of a relative in La Orotava. Her neighbor told her that he was not leaving, minutes later she confessed that her children were already on their way.
a huge column
Since the message arrived, door to door, and with the help of a public address system, everyone’s face changed. Serious gestures, of concern, crossed fleetingly in cars that were going faster than usual, while the fire began to rage with the vegetation on the hillside. To look up was to find enormous flames and an immense column of smoke advancing towards the La Calera ravine and the coast. When the sirens and cars left room for silence, the sinister howl of the fire could be heard and the continuous crackling of branches and trunks with years of life consumed in seconds.
During the most tense moments of the evacuation, Las Llanadas left images very similar to those experienced so recently in the Aridane Valley, on La Palma. There is no difference between people who flee from lava or fire and have to leave their homes behind without knowing what they will find on the way back. In the cars, not a smile, just boxes, mattresses, clothes, televisions, computers, papers, photos and disjointed faces. A father, with his two young sons, was able to get his horse out in a trailer. The children were driving along a road overlooking a hillside that looked like hell. Neither boy looked up. Better not to look any more at what filled the eyes of the elders with fear.
“You go up, you run, but what do you take with you?” asked a young man whose house is located very close to the Chanajiga recreational area. «I started taking things without meaning, even an old sewing machine that I don’t want at all. No one is prepared to leave their house like this, without knowing if you will be able to return or what you will find later », he confessed.
The eviction notice caught many neighbors working. A resident on El Madroño road left his company since receiving the notice, but he arrived too late. The police did not allow her access to his house “not even to remove the butane cylinder from there. I haven’t been able to get anything and here I am, looking at the fire to see what happens. It’s been years and years of work, it’s all I have, and now I see that I can lose it in a thousandth », he explained with a lost look. That fear was a shared fear, collective like rage. The rage that comes from thinking that something is being done wrong in the mountains and that, at least in the popular imagination, is the cause of these fires taking on enormous proportions. They no longer let you take the needles, they no longer let you use many paths, they no longer let you go through the firewall. The same complaints were repeated over and over again like a mantra. Among the evicted and their neighbors, other repeated questions without answers: “How is it possible that this is happening?”, “Why is the fire coming down where it had never come down before?”, “Why didn’t the firewalls up there?
The rage also connected these realejeros with those affected by the La Palma volcano: «If my house burns down, what are they going to tell me afterwards? Is someone going to make my house again? Look at La Palma, there are still many waiting », complained loudly a middle-aged man, who yesterday was digging potatoes and had to return, full of earth, to remove what he could from his house. “And the police hardly even let me take a shower,” he grumbled.
For several hours, people tried to take their animals as best they could. Chickens in cages, dogs and goats in the pickup trailer, cats in carriers… but what do you do with your mule if you don’t have an adapted trailer? Well, start walking down the road, looking for a safe place where you can leave it. And with no more company than a puppy.
Other neighbors and friends came to help and, in some cases, to clear some weeds and weeds from around the houses before leaving them to their fate. The farms without care yesterday were another headache for the people of Las Llanadas. Despite the fact that there is a legal obligation to keep the land clean, as a recent proclamation from the Los Realejos Mayor’s Office recalled, the reality is that there are almost more vacant orchards without care than farms in operation. “I take care of mine, but if the one next door has a meter and a half of grass and brambles, that’s like gasoline,” explained another neighbor to a group of friends, sitting watching the hillside burn.
life will change
In Las Llanadas there was a feeling that, even if it ends like this, life will change. As for a man in his 60s who, cigarette in hand, explained the loss: «That which is burning is precious. Going up there is my life. Walk around, lead the horse. I love the mount and look at it there, burning ». When the flames began to enter the laurel forest areas, the subtropical humid forest that is still preserved in some corners of the Canary Islands, the worst face of the environmental drama made an appearance. Because yesterday the home of two ornithological jewels like the turquoise and rabiche pigeons also burned.
In times of political disrepute, in the midst of a collective drama, there was time to reconcile with the work of the town councillors. Government and opposition. Omnipresent, distraught, on the verge of tears, but also resolute, involved and putting themselves at the disposal of the emergency services to collaborate in evictions, locate the most isolated homes or simply distribute donuts to sweeten the wait for so many worried people. Helping, and also suffering, like Melissa García, the mayor who narrated her own eviction live on Radio Realejos: «At the moment when you have to decide what to take with you, you realize how poor we are. You collect the photos, the TV and the computers, you give your house a kiss and you don’t know if you’ll be able to return. I hope it stays in a bad drink, in a bad memory and that we can all return soon.