“My flowers have gone bad.”

With uncertainty and fear still in their bodies, the residents of La Orotava and El Rosario are returning to their homes this week.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
26 September 2023 Tuesday 17:07
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“My flowers have gone bad.”

With uncertainty and fear still in their bodies, the residents of La Orotava and El Rosario are returning to their homes this week. They thus put an end to the disorder and stress that caused them to leave their homes, in a hurry, due to the proximity of the fire that started on the night of August 15 in the Arafo mountains, in Tenerife.

Among the testimonies of the displaced, is that of Yolanda Marrero, 80 years old, who hours before knowing that she could return home was suffering because of a trip she has tomorrow. “And on Wednesday I'm going to the hairdresser,” she said with a smile, in one of the Red Cross shelters where she was relocated with her daughter and her grandson, in El Rosario. A week ago, this neighbor from Las Rosas “was watching the fire on the big mountain” on the balcony of her house, when a Civil Guard car approached. She had to leave there.

Now it's time to thoroughly clean the houses, water crops and get back to normal. “My flowers have gone bad,” Yolanda lamented. The fire continues to devour the forest, it has already affected 14,600 hectares, but it is losing strength. There is only one active front in Güímar. The beast is beginning to give in... "Yes, it is beginning to show signs of giving in," said yesterday, cautiously, the vice president of the Tenerife Cabildo and Minister of Tourism, Lope Afonso, confirming in a telephone conversation the favorable evolution of the fire.

Afonso was leaving a meeting with the mayors of the 12 affected municipalities, in which measures for de-escalation were agreed upon. “If the conditions were maintained, in four or five days we could speak of a stabilized fire, and the extinction phase would be entered, which would involve weeks,” he added.

The objective now is the return home of 12,000 people who remain evacuated. Among them, the three hundred that the Red Cross has sheltered in its shelters. Like Candelaria, 50 years old, from Aguamansa. “At 7 in the morning, the Civil Guard told me 'you have one hour to leave.' I, with three children, alone, found myself in chaos. 'Come on children, grab the basics, we're leaving.' I put everything in the car. When I arrived at the pavilion my tears came down,” she describes. In this same pavilion in La Orotava there is also Martín, 53 years old, from Pino Alto: “I came with my brother. I'm desperate to go up. I have a small garden, I haven't been able to go up to water it. But I have my dog ​​here, Clementina,” he explains.

That's how it is. The farm animals are on some land, far away, but the pets are in the shelters, in a separate area. “I wouldn't leave home without my cat either,” Laura Marrero, a psychologist with the Red Cross emergency team, joked on Monday. “People come here nervous. Then they relax, others get angry. Then comes the sadness. They ask 'am I going to go back to my house? Will my house be okay?' And they worry about their plants, their orchids, they don't know how they are going to find them.”

The fire also takes its toll on extinguishing equipment. Pedro Martínez, head of the Tenerife Forestry Service, coordinates and transfers information between technicians and teams on the ground. “The fire had an explosive behavior from the beginning, allied with the wind and complicated orography, it entered the valleys, which are steep and have a lot of pine, and generated very high columns, throwing burning material to great distances. All the forestry work we tried did not work and from the first night we changed many strategies. The important thing was to safeguard people's lives and property,” he details.

While that hell was breaking loose in the north, in the southern half of the island the beaches were full. “In a week like last, there could have been around 130,000 people staying in Tenerife,” explains Juan Pablo González, managing director of the Ashotel association, who emphasizes that “within the terrible problem that is the fire, the tourist areas have not been seen. affected, they are very far away, and the ports and airports have been active.”

But the high season in the Canary Islands is in winter, when British, German and Scandinavian tourists come, the three big markets. “There have been 5% cancellations for September and October, somewhat above the norm, but we trust that it will be reversed,” he notes. Tourism is the main economic sector in the Canary Islands, but they are not afraid of the season.