Support is not something I find easy to ask for, but the catastrophic wildfires which swept through a vast area – almost 2,000 square kilometres – of Central and Northern Portugal on October 15-16 2017 cut off these valleys and burnt everything in sight, including the quinta. We are not in very good shape right now. In these valleys alone, 22 families and individuals lost their homes. Two people in the village of Cerdeira were amongst the 50 people who lost their lives.
We were lucky enough not to lose the main building and yurt. The wee house, geodome greenhouse and all the volunteer accommodation and facilities were destroyed or damaged beyond use. The cob bathroom was damaged. We have lost countless trees and shrubs. The environment surrounding us looks like a war zone.
But we were very lucky in so many ways …
- Because we couldn’t get out by car, the poultry – 4 hens and 2 geese – had to be left to fend for themselves. I went down to their enclosure the next morning fully expecting to find a lot of roast chicken and goose about the place, but they all greeted me at the gate with a raucous “Where’s our breakfast?!” and had 3 eggs waiting for me.
- The car, which I had to abandon on the track as our escape route was blocked by fire, incomprehensibly survived almost untouched. There’s only slight melting to the rear registration plate and quarter lights.
- Solar panels and electric cabling burned, but the housings containing the batteries, inverters and charge controllers survived and so did the equipment.
- The chute for the microhydro system and some of the cabling burned, but the alternator and wheel survived.
- Water supply pipe and the eleven 1,000-litre IBC tanks which formed part of our rainwater catchment and water storage system all burned, but the main concrete water tanks survived.
- The geodome greenhouse burned, but the 4,000 litres of water stored immediately above it were released when the pipes caught light, minimising the damage. The structure is intact and the bananas survived, although we lost everything plastic – the greenhouse cover and shade netting, aquaponics tanks and pipes, the 50-litre buckets used for growing, the 250-litre drum and pump used for making compost teas and a lot of plant pots and seed trays – plus all the tools which were in the area where I’d been working.
- One of our volunteer caravans survived, though several of the windows melted and will have to be replaced before the caravan is usable again. I’m having a bit of difficulty sourcing replacements because I can’t measure the size of the windows before they melted (caravan windows are larger than the opening in the structure). If anyone happens to have a 1989 or thereabouts Compass Shadow 4-berth and can tell me the window dimensions for the front, back and right front windows, I will be forever grateful!
Nothing was insured. I’d been told when I made enquiries it wasn’t possible to insure buildings that weren’t finished. Neither of the buildings were finished. (I since discovered others had been able to get insurance on incomplete buildings, but it’s a bit too late now …)
(Images can be found on the quinta’s Facebook page.)
How you can help
My daughters set up a small crowdfunding campaign in the immediate wake of the fires to get the quinta back on its feet. This support covered the replacement of burned cables and water pipes, new solar panels, a new generator and a couple of IBC tanks to restore water supply to the bathroom and repair the vermicomposting sanitation system.
The month-long campaign finished having raised £2,155 (£2,016 after fees) which, together with direct donations, amounted to £3,300 so I would like to say a massive THANK YOU! to everyone who very generously contributed. I couldn’t have done it without you!
Total losses amount to somewhere in the region of €50,000. I’m only able to claim a potential €5,000 of that through the compensation schemes set up for fire victims because what I do here doesn’t fit into the right boxes. Permaculture/agroecology, sustainable infrastructure development and agricultural education don’t have a box. So we will continue to crowdfund to get specific projects completed, and achieve as much as we can with donated materials and voluntary labour.
If you would like to support us with donations, you can do so directly. Funds can be sent through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or via this button …
Regular donations can also be set up via PayPal. You’re given the option when you use the button above.
Or you can send directly to my bank account:
NAME: Pauline Wendy Howard
IBAN: PT50 0045 3451 4022 4539 3943 1
BANK: Crédito Agrícola
If you’d like to support the entire community rather than just Quinta do Vale, the community crowdfunding campaign is still running. Go here –
In the wake of the fires, local database designer Pierce Beckett and myself put a community needs database together. This aims to match donations with what people really need to get their lives back together again. The database covers all the areas of Central Portugal which burned during 2017. You can search it to find what people are looking for and contact them directly.
If you’d like to support us with more practical hands-on help, then come and work with us!
Our volunteer accommodation and facilities were destroyed or damaged beyond use, so aside from the now-repaired surviving caravan, we can really only accommodate people who are travelling in camper vans or with tents. With resources exhausted by the fires, I’m also unable to provide food beyond what I can share of what’s growing on the quinta.
The local community here has really pulled together since the fires and we regularly help each other with workgroups. We’ve also set up a community tool bank. So you’ll get the opportunity to help many others as well as Quinta do Vale. If you have a trade or you’re a skilled DIYer, you will be especially appreciated.
At the moment, we’re still in the clean-up phase. We’ve now got essential services like water, power and sanitation back online and some food growing, but there is still a way to go to deal with all the dead trees.
Meanwhile I continue to grapple with officialdom and mountains of paperwork in the hopes we can get some kind of help with rebuilding the wee house. As of January 2019, this is looking more likely, but is still a way off being fully approved and timetabled.
The image at the top of the page is © Mizé Jacinto. It’s from “ONE“, a photoessay on the fires of October 2017 involving women from the burned regions of the Serra do Açor and Pinhal de Leiria. The image is of me (right) and 3 friends, Raquel Perdigão Williams (centre), Rita Martins (left) and Laura Williams (back). Here we are after the session, L to R – Raquel, Mizé, Laura, Rita and me. And not forgetting Leo.