Algarve mobilises fire aid

The Algarve is coming up trumps in response to the dire need for essentials of all kinds in fire-ravaged districts of the centre and north.

Within days of the horror that destroyed so many lives, groups began sprouting up using the jungle drums of social media to spread their cause.

The mission: to get as many people back on their feet before temperatures plunge, before the (longed-for) rains of autumn finally arrive and before life for those surrounded by blackened landscapes and devastation gets even more difficult.

Incredibly – considering we are only 10 days from the worst of this national crisis – some families have already been helped massively.

What has been described as “the national Zumba family” heard of the plight of one single mother in Tondela with three teenage children who had “lost everything”.

Instantly, teachers and fans of Zumba (described as the largest fitness family on the planet) sprang into action.

In Sagres, Zumba queen Stela Basílio reports that, within three days, that mother had a house full of everything she needed, from washing machine and other electrical appliances to kitchen utensils, “shoes for her and the children, clothes, a computer and MP3 to plan her classes, and which costs us all so much to buy”. Now the woman is sorting through items that were duplicated to send on to others who need them.

Stela Basílio, meantime, has set up the west Algarve group “Vamos Ajudar as Vítimas dos Incêndios”, which is currently in touch with Vila do Bispo council organising a large enough drop-off point for aid and equipment which will be bussed up north as soon as the group gets a confirmed address.

Anyone in the region who wants to help/get involved/donate should sign up to the group via Facebook. The page explains all the items currently sought, including baby cots, nappies, moses baskets and all the paraphernalia that goes with that stage of children’s lives.

At the same time, ASMAA stalwarts from the group that has been leading the way in the fight against drilling for gas and oil are rallying ‘estrangeiros’ with the help of redoubtable Debby Burton, the lynchpin of fire communications network “Alerta de Incêndio Florestal/Forest Fire Alert (Algarve and Lower Alentejo)”.

As we write this text, ASMAA’s warehouse in Barão de São João is filling up with boxes that will be loaded onto a convoy of trucks setting off to Oliveira do Hospital and Tábua on Friday.

It’s the first of two initiatives planned by the group, and again anyone wishing to help should get in touch ASAP.

Said Debby: “The response over Facebook has been fantastic. I will be driving up in our van packed to the gunnels, and then there will be a 90 cubic metre lorry which has been donated to help going up next month.”

In Aljezur, 29-year-old mother of two Sofia Costa has launched her own initiative, powered by the large IVECO van she bought recently.

On Tuesday night, she was not even sure of the van’s capacity. “I think it is 2m x 4.5m, or maybe 5m. I’m not sure…” But she means to fill it, and drive up to Serra da Estrela where so many thousands of farm animals too perished.

Sofia’s mission isn’t just for the two-legged victims. She works at Aljezur Animal Centre and she wants to deliver as much ‘animal aid’ as possible – even cattle feed.

Again, Sofia’s long list of what she’d like to take with her is posted on her Facebook page, along with a thumbs-up photo of her beside her truck.

“Let’s all open our hearts,” says Sofia, “and together make a difference in people’s lives. Alone I could not do it. Please spread this message and ask your neighbours, friends and schools to help. Thank you!”

Sofia’s page is entitled “Help to the Fire Victims/Ajuda às Vítimas do Incêndio” and she is planning to set off up north on November 4.

In other words, there is loads of time for the people of the Algarve to show solidarity for all the communities that survived a living nightmare and are now trying valiantly to pick up the pieces.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa comforting a fire victim in Candosa, Tábua on October 22