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Spanish Secrets: Sound The Alarm

...Today, the smell of wood smoke means one thing – danger.
I scan the horizon looking for the source. A large, grey plume billows into the air, fading as it rises higher and higher...

Craig Briggs tells of summer worries in the part of Spain where he and his wife Melanie live.

On most occasions, the intoxicating aroma of wood smoke conjures up images of cosy nights in: toasting marshmallows over a romantic log fire, but not today. This is the middle of summer and temperatures are topping 100 degrees.

Today, the smell of wood smoke means one thing – danger.

I scan the horizon looking for the source. A large, grey plume billows into the air, fading as it rises higher and higher. Across the valley a forest fire rages. The firm but modest breeze scatters the cloud northward and away from the house.

The warning howl of a distant siren fades in and out on the wind: the foot soldiers are on the scene. Fire fighters fly overhead. Two helicopters are joined by two, single-seater water bombers – whop-clacker, whop-clacker, whop-clacker! The sound is almost deafening as they fly directly over the house.

They’ve been buzzing around most of the day. Somewhere over the horizon is a far more urgent emergency. These aerial fire fighters fly back and forth, back and forth, hauling their precious cargo of water from the great river Sil to the burning forest.

When their work is over, and the fires extinguished, all that remains is a blackened landscape of charred trees and scorched earth. Nature’s beautiful wilderness is scarred by a baron, lifeless wasteland of apocalyptic appearance.

Thankfully, time and Mother Nature will quickly heal this open wound. Within twelve months, the vibrant green brushstrokes of nature’s palette transform this ashen scene. A short time later, the only reminders of these natural disasters are the black wooden sculptures of once proud trees, slowly decaying with the passing seasons.

Reassured that we are not in any immediate danger, we decide to drive the 10 kilometres to Os Chancis.

Os Chancis is nothing more than a name on a map; in some cases, not even that. In less austere times, the local council built an embarkation point for boat trips on the river. Our destination today is not the river but a quiet bar perched on top of the river canyon.

Outside the bar is a small, concrete terrace scattered with tables and chairs and beyond that a gravel area with more of the same. Save for the staff, and a few of their friends, the place is deserted. We take a seat and order a beer – a Galician brew named 1906. Brewed with malt, it tastes refreshingly English.

A cool beer on a hot sunny day takes some beating and if the 6.5% specific gravity doesn’t set your head spinning, the breathtaking view most certainly will.

Stretched out in front of us is an ancient landscape, sympathetically managed to meet the needs of modern man. It shows how, with a little thought and a great deal of luck, human kind can integrate harmoniously with the natural surroundings.

Below us is the river Sil, looking more like a Scottish loch than a fast flowing river. Passing clouds cast menacing shadows on the water. Variable gusts, channelled through the steep canyon, whip up regiments of white horses which charge down the river before disappearing into the calm, dark water.

Downstream, a legacy of Franco’s rule holds back the river, providing hydro-electric power.

In the distance, an unnamed mountain rises from the river to over 1000 metres. A new environmental legacy clings to its steep contours – wind turbines. They stand tall and proud like modernist statues, angelic and graceful.

As my mind drifts away into a utopian world of natural beauty and renewable energy, the silence is suddenly shattered – whop-clacker, whop-clacker, whop-clacker!

This harsh, mechanical noise echoes around the canyon, traumatising the senses. A life saving helicopter flies overhead, banks steeply and hovers over the river. Hanging below this miracle of aviation is a balloon shaped bag. It hardly looks big enough to serve any useful purpose, but it does.

The pilot hovers lower and lower, submerging the hanging envelope. With a rush of power the aircraft rises, dips its nose and speeds off to the emergency.

Beer downed, it’s time for us to do the same; but we’ll be back, you can count on that.


Craig has written a book, Journey To A Dream, a vivid and entertaining account of how he came to live in Spain.

It is available from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Journey-To-Dream-discovery-industrial/dp/1480254932/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374567185&sr=8-1&keywords=craig+briggs

Do visit Craig's Web site


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