Wildfire – the most feared hazard of rural life

Living in rural Mallorca is wonderful, but country life has its hazards. And the most terrifying of these is wildfire. During the island’s long hot summers these fires occur far more often than they should, causing serious environmental damage and endangering the lives of firefighters as well as the people, animals, and property in their path. Last year there were more than 80 such fires on Mallorca – some started deliberately.

Airborne aid

A few years ago we had first-hand experience of the frightening unpredictability of fire, when a blaze ripped through our valley. A neighbour (a local, who must have known about the illegality of bonfires in the summer) had been burning some garden rubbish, and believed the fire was extinguished when he left it. However, the fire had travelled through the roots of wild olive and re-ignited, spreading quickly onto our land.

It was a very dramatic day, with a helicopter scooping up water from neighbouring swimming pools and water tanks to dowse the erratic flames (fortunately not too close to the house). We were extremely grateful – and in awe of – the airborne and ground firefighters who extinguished the blaze.

But the fire in our valley was but a spark compared to the one that’s devastated almost 2,000 hectares of forested mountain terrain on Mallorca – the worst wildfire here for some two decades. The fire broke out last Friday at around lunchtime (the result of human carelessness) and, only today, has it been reported as being finally under control.

Help from the mainland

It affected three municipalities in the southwest of the island – Andratx, Estellencs, and Calvia – and more than 700 people had to evacuate their homes because they were at risk. Firefighters and equipment were brought in from the Spanish mainland to assist the teams here, along with members of the military emergency unit, UME. Seaside holidaymakers – not in any danger from the blaze – watched in amazement from beaches in some of the southwest resorts, as firefighting planes and helicopters scooped water from the Mediterranean in front of them.

Thousands of amateur photos must have been captured and emailed by holidaymakers, but here’s one of a number taken over the past few days by Warwick Upton, a respected professional photographer on Mallorca.  www.warwickupton-photography.co.uk

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

Taking water from the Med to the mountains

And for a chilling account of how it feels to be so close to a raging wildfire, here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend and fellow blogger/journalist Vicki McLeod.

http://familymattersmallorca.com/2013/07/29/our-nit-de-foc/

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The luxury of finca life

A web within a web?

A web within a web?

I write for a luxury lifestyle magazine on Mallorca, which may seem a little odd, given that rural life on the island – as we live it, in an old finca – is far from luxurious, as the word is generally interpreted.

But I certainly do appreciate and know a bit about the finer things in life. Someone once accused me of being a bit of a hedonist: I love top-notch cuisine, fine wines, travel (not that we’ve done much of that with all the expense of keeping a finca going and all our cats to look after), and going to the theatre and concerts. But, of necessity (all those finca bills!), these pleasures are very infrequent – and more appreciated by both The Boss and me, I believe, as a result.

The yucca-wide web

Since coming to live on Mallorca, I’ve written about, or interviewed people in, some fabulous architect-designed homes on Mallorca. I’m not jealous at all . . . much. But I’ve just seen the most amazing accommodation this morning. Rising before the sun and finding a serena (sea mist) blanketing the valley, I ventured out with my Nikon D50. And saw this intriguing spider’s web in one of our yucca bushes – a kind of web-within-a-web. An inner sanctum? A mezzanine? Who knows.

Without wishing to sound too fingers-down-the-throat cheesy, it’s experiences like this that make us appreciate finca living: being sufficiently without the distractions of busy daily urban life to have the time and opportunity to notice what nature gets up to while the human race races about its daily life. And that’s a real luxury.

A key issue . . .

We had a small problem recently involving the disappearance of the key to our dependencia – the small building in our field which houses our generator, solar batteries, and the invertor.

Every Monday The Boss carries out what he calls his “weekly checks”: he measures the level of water in our cisterna (we don’t have mains water, and need to organize a delivery by tanker when we’re running low). He also looks at the various components of our solar-powered electricity system to make sure all is as it should be. After he’s locked up the outbuilding, he always returns the key to its hook in a key cupboard we have in the house. He’s a Virgo – it’s what they do.

But when he came to do his Monday checks a couple of weeks ago, the hook was empty. This small discovery set off a massive search of the pockets of every pair of trousers and shorts he possesses (well, except the suit – he never wears that around the finca). We turned out drawers and cupboards, looked in the most ridiculous of places – you never know – and finally concluded that the darned thing was well and truly lost. We’d have to get a new key.

Looking for a locksmith

We do try and use local companies and shops whenever possible and, although we knew that there were companies in Palma that could help us – 24 hours a day, it seems – we wanted to support a local business. So The Boss set about finding a locksmith in our nearest town, Manacor, aware that replacing a lock that’s part of a reinforced metal door was going to cost rather a lot of money.  But it had to be done – and quickly. If there’s a thunderstorm, we need to be able to disable the whole system, to avoid damage to the invertor  (once was enough of that!).

There seemed to be several potential local companies in the phone book and, rather than try and negotiate over the phone, we set off to town with map in hand to deal face-to-face with one of these craftsmen.

We drew a blank at each of the advertised companies. The addresses we visited were either for completely unrelated businesses or were old abandoned premises. But when we later rang one of the numbers to see if they’d moved to a new address, we discovered it was a company in Palma. Not local at all then. Subsequent visits to ironmongers in town confirmed our growing fears: there don’t seem to be any locksmiths operating on an individual basis anymore.

At this point I remembered our house insurance; we read the policy small print, and called the company. The new lock would be covered by insurance, and they’d arrange for an emergency locksmith (from Palma, of course) to do the job within 24 hours.

We didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or relieved to have to phone the company back a few hours later. The Boss had found the key . . . which had somehow found its way under a thick rug in our bedroom. One of those ridiculous places we hadn’t checked earlier!

The Boss has since had duplicate keys cut for ever single lock around the property: a job we’d been meaning to do ever since we bought the place! What jobs do you have that you’ve been putting off, or have slipped your mind?

A better type of insurance against future key loss . . .

A better type of insurance against future key loss . . .

Tigger needs a home . . .

Because blogs are read by people from around the world, I’m not too optimistic that this post will achieve what I’d like it to, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Hopefully an animal lover on Mallorca will read this . . .

Regular readers of Living in Rural Mallorca will know that The Boss and I have quite a few cats about our finca. Minstral, our Birman, is an indoor cat (when we ‘adopted’ him from a cat fosterer, we were warned that he had no road sense whatsoever and shouldn’t be allowed to go out alone. When he ventures outside for a short while, he is supervised!).

We also have an outdoor tribe of cats – all but one of them related to each other. They’re a tight-knit little bunch but accepted Shorty into their midst because, we think, he was so tiny (and injured) when he appeared on our land late last July. Other cats that have since ventured onto our property have met with varying degrees of hostility. Fur has flown . . .

A loyal feline companion

For this reason we can’t help out some dear friends, who are returning to the UK for health reasons. Because they are moving to a no-pets-policy rented property there, they can’t take their much-loved cat Tigger. He’s a handsome fella of around four years old, neutered and fully vaccinated. He’s used to living outdoors but stays mainly on our friends’ land, arriving at the door twice daily for his food.  He loves human company, but hasn’t been used to children, and loves a bit of a fuss, and sitting on a lap when he gets the chance. And he needs to be re-homed within the next two weeks.

Do you live on Mallorca? Could you find a place in your heart and home (or garden) for Tigger?Please get in touch if you can . . .

Tigger

Tigger

 

 

Think big, shop small

Several years ago we decided that we would change the handles on some of the doors to our little house in rural Mallorca. The existing chrome-finished ones were showing signs of age and – the exterior ones – the impact from the climate. But after looking around all the ferreterías in Manacor, we concluded that this particular home improvement would be rather expensive. Idea abandoned.

A ferretería, I should explain, is a hardware or ironmonger’s store. We spent many hours in such shops during our early time on Mallorca when there were plenty of jobs to be done around the house. The Boss still enjoys a potter around such establishments just in case he sees something that may be useful in one of his frequent DIY jobs.

The arrival of large DIY stores on the island (mainly in Palma) has had an impact on the small local shops selling hardware; some of the ferreterías we used to visit have closed down, no longer able to compete with ‘the big boys’. But we still frequent these little treasure troves when we need something we think we’ll find locally.

Get a handle on this

Earlier this year, one of the chrome door handles broke. It was on the inner door to the annexe guest room, which we don’t use very often; we used a spanner to manoeuvre the lock when we wanted to get into the room. A bit Heath Robinson, but it was OK for a while. But with my uncle due to come and stay in the room in May, we knew we’d have to start thinking about new door handles.

During a visit to Sa Pobla (an area known for the cultivation of potatoes and onions) we spotted some rather attractive door handles in a ferretería window. We went in to the tiny shop – crammed with everything from rubber gloves to power drills – to ask the price.  The handles seemed to be good quality but were a fraction of the price of others we’d seen in Manacor. Sold: one set of door handles. The guest room door situation was finally resolved.

A matter of trust

We were so pleased with the handles that on our next visit to Sa Pobla we called in at the shop again. Yes, they had another five sets in stock. But the in-shop machine they use to cut the keyhole in the appropriate place was broken. It was agreed that they’d reserve the handles for us and phone us when the machine was fixed. We offered to pay a deposit, but this suggestion was dismissed with a wave of an arm.

A week later we had the call to say the machine was fixed and The Boss jumped into the car and headed off. He arrived at the shop to find that the keyholes had already been cut, even though we hadn’t paid for the handles in advance. No waiting around while the holes were cut; all he had to do was pay for them.

I can’t imagine that would have happened at one of the big DIY chains. And that’s why we think it’s important to support ‘the small guys’.

 

 

 

A plum job

Over the past few days we’ve received two donations of plums from our English neighbours Pat and Tony, whose tree has been almost bending under the weight of the small cherry-like plums. And they are simply delicious. I’ve been eating them almost like sweets, but there’s a limit to how many plums one should eat at a time – and something tells me I’ve passed it!

As I write, a few pots of plum jam are cooling in the kitchen and, when I’ve restocked with sugar, I’ll be making more, and also freezing some of the fruit for the future (The Boss is extremely partial to a plum crumble).

Figtastic

While at our neighbours’ house we noticed they had figs ripe and ready for picking, whereas our largest fig tree still has only the tiniest of hard green fruits – our harvest usually comes in September. But we do have some small and old fig trees elsewhere on our land – albeit not very accessible – and were prompted to check those out for progress of any fruit. To our surprise, we found a handful ready to eat, with more likely to be ripe before too long.

First figs from our land

First figs from our land

Looks like I’ll be spending quite a bit more time in the kitchen this week . . .