When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Enjoy unlimited access to quality journalism.

Limited time offer

Get your 30-day free trial!

Who Will Be Left? A Message From The "Inextinguishable" Fires Of Zamora

The droughts and extreme temperatures due to climate change, together with the abandonment of the countryside, have caused fierce fires in Spain that have devastate the livelihoods of the few people who still live there.

Who Will Be Left? A Message From The "Inextinguishable" Fires Of Zamora

A fire forced the evacuation of some 6,000 people from 34 towns

Cristina García Casado

TÁBARA — Francisco Vicente and Delia spent two days inside a tractor. In their town, Tábara, in the northwestern Spanish province of Zamora, the flames tried to enter from all fronts for hours without mercy or truce.

Many neighbors, like them, disregarded the Civil Guard's eviction order and stayed behind to defend their houses, their crops and their animals. This is all they have. The official fire extinguishing techniques are not designed for the massive fires of the 21st century.

"If the people hadn't stayed behind, the fire would have reached the town and burned it," says Francisco Vicente Casado Fresno, a farmer, just like his father, grandparents, uncles and those who preceded them.

Tábara's population doesn't even reach 800 inhabitants. In its mountains, where traditionally cattle was raised, there is no one to pick rockrose and heather, which now grow freely.

Brutal drought, unstoppable flames

All the farmers, ranchers, forestry technicians, emergency personnel, mayors and neighbors interviewed to write this reportage agree on one point: fires like the ones that have devastated 5% of the province of Zamora this summer can't be stopped, not even by multiplying exponentially the tools at hand. The operatives can improve so that the response is more agile, but these unusual fires are only contained beforehand: with a new model of territorial management.

"I often come home crying because I don't have the tools to deal with something like this," says José Luis Gutiérrez, firefighting technician for the governing body of the autonomous community of Castile and León. This is his first hour off after three days working on the fire that forced the evacuation of almost 6,000 people from 34 towns. The province of Zamora, one of the most depopulated areas in Europe, has 168,725 inhabitants.

"There is a brutal drought, it seems to transform everything in gasoline. A dry storm comes, lightning strikes, it catches on and the wind turns the fire into a hurricane," says Casado.

“The situation of the vegetation converts it into fuel and fires start that are beyond extinguishing capacity. In these conditions, fire releases such great energy that it feeds on itself. Not even if we put in 100 times more firefighters, 200 million firefighters, it wouldn't matter, we wouldn't be able to do it," says Gutiérrez.

Around half of the forest area burned in Spain in 2022 is located in Zamora, and it burned down in just over a month. Some 24,000 hectares in the June fire in the Sierra de la Culebra, a protected area of great environmental and wildlife value, and more than 20,000 in July in the Losacio fire that surrounded Tábara and Los Valles. Some estimates indicate a record surface of 60,000 hectares was burned in July.

An exhausted firefighter in Losacio, Zamora

Emilio Fraile/Contacto/ZUMA

Defend their properties

Gutiérrez has been putting out fires in Zamora and other provinces for 22 years and what he has seen these days is only compared in virulence with the Navalacruz de Ávila fire in 2021.

“In the past, the biggest fire of the summer would cover 2,000 or 3,000 hectares. Now we hardly talk about those because we are facing fires of 20,000, 25,000, 30,000 hectares. It's unthinkable," he says.

Many hid from the guards who went door to door evacuating the town

The fire in Tábara reached speed and multiplied on so many fronts that those who were trying to stop it could only defend the villages one by one.

"The fire jumped the firebreaks as if they were nothing, even the national highway," says a farm worker from the area who prefers not to be identified. He stayed behind to defend his home with taps and hoses because his property touches vegetation. “I am not going to leave my house, as they asked us, and the next day come and lie down in the ashes,” he says. Many, like him, hid from the guards who went door to door evacuating the town.

Ángel Martín, the man whom half the world saw come out of the flames in a viral video, did not leave either. With a backhoe, he was trying to keep the fire from reaching the town's gas station when it engulfed him. He is hospitalized with burns on 80% of his body and his family has asked that the images of the horror stop being published.

“I was by his side creating firebreaks in the morning. He didn't go into the fire, it's the fire that ate him. A ball of fire that did nothing but run at a frightening speed,” recalls Francisco Vicente Casado Fresno.

Everything reduced to ashes 

He and his wife, Delia Hernández, who owns a hair salon, did not get off the tractor until the fire moved away from Tábara. They protected neighboring plantations while they couldn't do anything for their own crops: they've lost it all.

Only a couple of farmers had started harvesting the rye, oats and wheat that grow in the area.

The cattle that have survived the fire have nothing to eat, everything is burned. Some shepherds have already begun moving their sheep to other villages, where ranchers will share their pasture with them.

Some families have lost the legacy of generations of hard work in the fields. It was all they had.

Two people lost their lives: Daniel Gullón, a 62-year-old hose worker, and 69-year-old pastor Victoriano Antón, who was found burned to death along with his herd.

The children of farmers who live in the villages know that perhaps no one will continue with their legacy. In 10 or 20 years, who will be left to defend the towns when the mountain burns?

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest