“We lost all this, from the crossroads down there to the other side. The food I had for the cows too, those alpacas from there have just arrived ”. Pedro lives in Navalmoral de la Sierra, although for years he has distributed the cattle between this municipality and his farm in Navalacruz. To the latter, he arrives at the wheel of an old SUV with his son, also a rancher. The freezing cold of recent days has made a white blanket cover the scars left on the ground last summer.
The two towns of Pedro burned last August along with many others, in what turned out to be the fourth largest fire in the history of Spain: 22,000 hectares – twice the area of Barcelona. It all started on the morning of August 14, when a car burned along the eastern slope of the Sierra de Paramera, 40 kilometers from the walls of Ávila. The owners of the vehicle sounded the alarm to the emergency services, which despite receiving 65 calls in a few minutes, took more than half an hour to send a helicopter. When they did, it was too late. The flames got out of control and the virulence of the fire did the rest. Now, in the week that marks the 100th day of the fateful outcome, and shortly after the judge has closed the investigation for “lack of culprits”, those affected raise their voices to ask that the misfortune not be repeated.
María is a rancher from San Juan del Molinillo. “What happened here is terrible, we have lost quality of life and work.” The fire burned 80% of his municipality in just three days. He lost a calf and assures that the rest of the cows, to whom he carefully distributes straw at the back of his farm, still have traces of ash between their hooves. She and her brother had to walk all their livestock down from the top of the mountain, where they were allowed to graze in exchange for a lease. “It was the only way to save them from the fire,” he says. It regrets with some frustration that the Municipal Association of Asocio de Ávila [dueña de las fincas] “I have not yet returned anything that was lost”, but she is proud to speak of the neighborhood collaboration of those interminable days: “I took in cattle from strangers here. Three of my cows showed up a week, when I was already giving them up. Another rancher had taken them in. Without that collaboration, the losses would have been greater ”.
Unfortunately for many, the fire did not only hurt during the days it was active. The cold drop of September swept the slopes of the Avila mountains, full of ash and charred vegetation. The summer flames burned the lands and eliminated the natural defense of the valley, aggravating the force of the storms, which swept everything in their path in autumn with excessive force.
In Sotalbo, the municipality most affected by fire —9,000 hectares burned, 85% of the municipal term—, the cold drop collapsed a stone bridge built in the 19th century. Juan Manuel del Nogal, mayor of the municipality, has lived there since he was born, and acknowledges that he has never seen anything similar: “There have always been storms here, and some very hard, but something so serious had never happened. The streets of some towns were rivers. And all because of the fire, ”he says from one of the houses burned by the fire, now turned into a pile of rubble.
Ernesto, a rancher from Navalmoral, on the other side of the mountains, is clear that his sector has been the most affected by the disaster: “The economic losses have been very important. For these communal farms, which we call barracks, there are people who pay more than 30,000 euros a year. […] If in 2022 we do not collect the aid of the PAC (Common Agricultural Policy), we will all go to ruin ”. At 36, he assures that the “survival” of all his colleagues depends on these concessions, promoted every five years. The current legislation, pending modification in the Cortes of Castilla y León, establishes that the lands that have been affected by the fire are not usable for pasture and, therefore, do not carry a right to payment for the ranchers.
While waiting for official aid, all those affected agree that the solidarity, collaboration and voluntary work of hundreds of anonymous people has been what has saved them. In Navalacruz, Diego, the bartender at Bar Casillas, remembers how all the neighbors took out the shovel in the suffocating heat of August to work non-stop and build firebreaks on the valley side: “It was incredible to see how everyone helped Without that effort, the fire would have taken the town ahead ”.
A few minutes from there, going up the road back to the snowy farm, Pedro assures that without the shipments of food, fodder and alpacas for the cattle that came from different provinces of Spain in a disinterested way, many farmers would not have overcome the misfortune. His son, also Pedro, denounces that some have tried to take advantage of the general solidarity to “get on the car, suck off the boat” and get their own benefit: “I know one who received more fodder than his share and took it to Madrid, to a stud farm that he has there. It is a shame. You are taking advantage of a help given by the misfortune that has happened here to feed your cattle elsewhere. […] Because of him, all the winners are taken advantage of shit.
Added to the extremely hard blow that the fire caused is the unprecedented severity of the autumn storms, which left all municipalities without drinking water for more than two months; the rise in prices of rural raw materials (electricity, diesel, cereals) and the fall in the prices of head of cattle.
As she closes the gate of her farm in San Juan del Molinillo, María regrets that every month they offer her less for her calves and, at the same time, she spends more on other items: “I have to change the wheels of the tractor and they ask me for more than 900 euros for each one. It does not give me life ”. Next week he will turn 40 years old and admits he is happy doing what he does, but sees a future that is “somewhat uncertain” due to the lack of profitability in the sector. From one of the buildings burned by fire on the outskirts of Navalmoral, Ernesto is something more blunt: “Much remains to be done. The pasture for livestock will take a few years to regenerate, but the appearance of the mountain is something else. The trees, the colors, the vegetation … We have lost all that with the fire. We will never see him again as we knew him ”.