I’ve had quite a few emails from readers asking if we’re okay after learning of the horrific wildfire in central Portugal. So to start out: we are fine; we live a half-day’s drive from the area where this occurred. Nor do we know anyone who was injured or lost their homes. Thank you so much for thinking of us.
It was and continues to be a terrible tragedy. Portugal is currently in the midst of three days of national mourning. So far there are 64 confirmed deaths, and 40 villages in the area have been evacuated. Forty villages!
The fire started from a “dry thunderstorm,” which means a thunderstorm in which the air is so hot that the rain evaporates before it can hit the ground. But the wind and the lightning strikes are still there.
This fire moved horrifically fast, due to the heat wave that has gripped Portugal (and much of Europe) for the last week or so. Many of the dead were caught on a highway, trying to evacuate when the fire jumped the road. They burned to death in their cars.
But there was one story, printed in the BBC, that really captured my attention because it so beautifully illustrates who the Portuguese are.
We found ourselves stranded in a village called Mó Grande, just off of the IC8 motorway; ourselves and others were directed there by an officer from the IC8.
As we drove up the mountain road you could see the flames jumping across from one side of the valley to the other.
The accompanying wind threw branches at the car but you couldn’t stop, you could feel the heat.
Eventually we reached the small village at a crossroads surrounded by fire. Locals and ourselves were crying, overwhelmed by the heat and speed of the fire. It was dark, so dark, among the flames.
A man shouted for us to come and take refuge in his home, along with his mother. Several of us did.
His mum had an annex flat downstairs, where it was cooler and out of the way of the fire. During the time there, more people were arriving, knocking on the door, people just congregated where there were signs of life.
The guy’s mum poured us wine, and it would have been pleasant if it wasn’t for the circumstances.
[…] As the power went off, the flames hit hard, a fiery red tornado passed the windows. We crouched on the floor for a good hour, trying to breathe, praying, crying. […] Eventually the fire passed and we emerged to see the smouldering remains of the village. Miraculously, our house and the one next door did not burn.
And that, in a nutshell, is the beautiful hospitality of the Portuguese people. Not just that they would invite strangers into their homes in an emergency — that kindness is not limited to the Portuguese — but that they would pour wine for their guests during the apocalypse! That story did not surprise me at all, but it did make me smile in recognition.
I love my adopted nation for many reasons. This is just one of them.