Salvador Palacio, a retired 74-year-old farmer, says it was like nothing he had ever seen before. “The smoke was asphyxiating, the flames were coming over the mountain, the sirens, the Civil Guard and police shouting over megaphones for us to leave – it was like a war scene.”
With the forest fires encroaching upon his home in Llutxent in Valencia, Palacio was ordered to evacuate on Tuesday night.
The next day, he recalls what happened at the Espai Baladre community center in Gandia, where three exhibitions have been hastily pulled down to make way for the 3,000 evacuees.
As he speaks, two girls rush in and hug him and his wife Carmen Pasqual. Palacio explains that they are his granddaughters. When the couple fled the fires, they left in such a rush they did not bring their cell phones. “The girls got scared and have been calling City Hall and the police asking for us until they were told we were here,” he says. Palacio and his wife have not been able to return to see what’s left of their house.
Valencia's regional government has extended the evacuation order as the fire continues to spread across the mountains, having already devoured 3,000 hectares of forest despite the efforts of the 800 firefighters and soldiers and 27 helicopters and small planes. With a westerly wind pushing it forward, the fire is now threatening to spread out of control to the west, towards Quatretonda and Xàtiva, and reach monstrous dimensions.
Unlike Palacio and his wife who are from Gandia, most of the evacuees in the community center are tourists. Like the 12 members of Gilbert Flores’ family. Flores, a 65-year-old cook, arrived from Lyon on Saturday to spend two weeks in Barx. When “burning pieces of wood” began to fall down in the terrace and swimming pool, the family left the house they had rented for the holidays. “It was not the holiday we had imagined, but it is what it is,” he says with resignation.
Nor was it what José Manuel Fernández, a worker at a Mercedes Benz factory, was expecting when he traveled from Vitoria in the Basque Country to spend the summer in Valencia. While his children slept, he stayed awake with his wife and a couple of friends and watched as the flames engulfed the rocky wall in front of the house they were staying in in La Drova.
“At 9:30 in the morning, the Civil Guard came and told us we had to leave because the direction of the wind had changed. The helicopters were stopping over the swimming pool next door to fill up on water. We gave them our inflatable floats and mats in case they needed to use them. The fire was 200 or 300 meters away.”
The group, who spent the night in a hotel and will spend at least two more in the community center, left a week’s worth of food at the holiday house along with the idea of having a relaxing vacation.
“We took a spare change of clothes and bathing suits so the kids, who are little, are not traumatized, so that they can go to the beach and have fun and not be aware of the situation.”
The neighboring area of Pinet was completely evacuated on Tuesday night when the flames were about to surround it. There were 150 people in town at the time. Lola Súñer, a 63-year-old local, said an elderly man refused to leave and was forced to evacuate by the Civil Guard.
The people from Pinet were relocated to Llutxent. “Most have stayed in people’s homes. There was no need to ask. Before we did, hundreds of volunteers had offered their houses. The solidarity is the only good thing to come of this,” says Llutxent Major Pep Estornell, who looks as though he has not slept for two days.
English version by Melissa Kitson.