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forest fires

In Spanish village threatened by forest fire, new life provides sweet surprise

As elderly residents return to homes, they discover the animals they had to leave behind are just fine

Amada Ruiz, aged 81, at her stable in Moropeche, where she keeps a donkey, goats, lambs, and hens and rabbits.
Amada Ruiz, aged 81, at her stable in Moropeche, where she keeps a donkey, goats, lambs, and hens and rabbits.

Amada Ruiz left behind five goats when she fled from her home on July 30, as forest fires that had raged for four days closed in on the tiny community of Yeste, in the hills of the southeastern province of Albacete. But when the 81-year-old returned on Wednesday, she was surprised to find that her fold had grown to seven.

“One of them gave birth while we were evacuated: when we got back we found two kids,” she says as she checks on her donkey, Nano, half-a-dozen sheep and a “good handful” of chickens and rabbits.

A firefighter assesses the damage from the blaze in the hills around Yeste.
A firefighter assesses the damage from the blaze in the hills around Yeste.

The animals had to be left behind last weekend when the Civil Guard helped evacuate residents. “A fireman, a friend of the family, came to feed and water them,” she says.

After four days away, Ruiz is among the first to return: “I’m still afraid. I’m trembling. I left a candle burning in an iron bucket, so that God would help us, and he has,” she says.

Amada Ruiz with one of her lambs and goats.
Amada Ruiz with one of her lambs and goats.

The regional government of Castilla-La Mancha says that residents in the hamlets of Mesones, Majadacarrasca, Tejeruela and Moropeche began returning to their homes as of Wednesday morning, saying that firefighters had put out a blaze that has destroyed some 3,300 hectares of woodland.

The smoke that had covered much of the area for most of the last week has now lifted, and of the 445 people who were evacuated, only 40 remain in shelters in Yeste and Molinicos. Many of those who had to leave were on holiday, and have decided to return home.

Pedro García, aged 74, checks on his rabbits after returning home to Moropeche.
Pedro García, aged 74, checks on his rabbits after returning home to Moropeche.

“The whole village came to help,” say Vicenta and José Luis, a married couple in their seventies from the village of Torre-Pedro, who had to flee their homes on July 27. “We saw a column of smoke about eight kilometers away. But the fire spread and by the afternoon the Civil Guard arrived shouting that we had to get out quickly – that the fire was coming toward us,” says Vicenta.

The couple decided not to go to their home in the nearby city of Elche, where they live part of the year, so as not to abandon their dog and parakeets, which stayed behind during the evacuation. Many other residents had to leave their pets and domestic animals behind as well.

Residents from communities around Yeste who were put up in a student hall of residence during the forest fire.
Residents from communities around Yeste who were put up in a student hall of residence during the forest fire.

Among them was Pedro Jiménez, aged 74, who has returned to his home in Moropeche after four days away, staying with his daughter. “I was just coming back from watering my vegetable garden when the officers told us we had to leave,” he says, heading to the shed to check up on his rabbits and chickens. “They are fine! They still have water and food!” he shouts as he opens the door. At his side is his dog, Luca, who also stayed behind during the evacuation. Close by, Pilar, aged 90, says she is happy none of the houses in the village were damaged. “When we left, we were very frightened. We had no idea what would happen,” she says.

Around 300 firefighters were still working on putting out the fire in the area around the villages on Wednesday afternoon, backed up by planes.

“It seems that the worst is over,” said Amada Ruiz from her doorway, before returning to her goats.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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