The owner of Estaminé, the popular restaurant on Faro’s Ilha Deserta which was completely destroyed in a fire last week, plans to rebuild and reopen by this summer.
Speaking to Barlavento newspaper this week, José Vargas admitted that his “world came crashing down” when he found out that his restaurant, whose history dates back to 1988, was reduced to little more than ashes.
The first sign that something was wrong was when Vargas and his family received a phone call from their security alarm service alerting to a possible break-in, which he said was far from uncommon.
“Sometimes the alarm would go off because of a cat walking by the movement sensors,” Vargas said, explaining that the family would use their phones to access the CCTV cameras and check if anything was wrong. “We wouldn’t see anyone, so we would turn off the alarm.”
However, when they checked the cameras that night, something was different.
“You could see a lot of light and movement, which was strange because at night all you can see are small lights from some of the electrical appliances. It was then that I received a call from one of my suppliers, a fisherman who was out at sea. He told me ‘Vargas, your restaurant is on fire’,” he told Barlavento.
“We went out to our balcony, saw the smoke and, at that moment, I knew the restaurant was gone. We thought about going there, but I said ‘no’. What were we going to do there? We would only torture ourselves,” Vargas explained, adding that the family only saw the damage the following morning.
If the circumstances had been different, the fire may have been brought under control before completely destroying the restaurant.
“Recreational fishing is banned (due to the pandemic) so no one goes to the island now. Usually, there would be fishermen on the island, sometimes they’d even sleep under the restaurant’s wooden structure. If that had been the case, they would have heard the fire alarms as they must have gone off. But with no one there, it was impossible to realise what was happening earlier,” he explained.
Given that the restaurant is located on a mostly deserted island, this has always been a risk that the owner was aware of.
“Over the years, we always worked with a plan A, plan B and plan C because we know that on a desert island we don’t have anyone to assist us,” he said, stressing that if he and his family had been there, they would have been able to “control the flames until firefighters arrived”.
Portugal’s Maritime Authority (AMN) was alerted to the fire “at around 10.45pm” by the restaurant’s owner. Maritime police agents and firefighters were dispatched, equipped with electric pumps to use Ria Formosa water for their firefighting efforts.
“When I arrived the next morning, they were still there monitoring the situation. I don’t know how long they took to arrive at the scene, but it certainly wasn’t under an hour’s time. Gathering the equipment they needed, loading it onto the boat, arriving on the island, installing the pumps, rolling out the hoses … it’s a lot of work. They were there all night. I know how hard it is. If they were able to get there within an hour, it would have been heroic,” said Vargas.
Not much survived the fire except for the restaurant’s solar panels.
It’s devastating news for a restaurant that had already seen revenue drop nearly €700,000 in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, although Vargas believes it may have been caused by a faulty appliance.
Now, he and his family are waiting for the restaurant’s “release by the authorities” which are still investigating the scene.
The goal is to have the new Estaminé up and running by this summer.
“It’s what keeps us from falling apart. We have to think that we will be able to get back on our feet,” he said.
With losses estimated to top €1 million, the Vargas family will be practically rebuilding from scratch.
Nonetheless, the owner said the restaurant will look just like it did before, albeit with a few improvements.
Community shows support
José Vargas says he is touched by the support that he has received from local residents and clients from around the world.
“Many have offered to help us. Our history is gigantic and now, in the midst of everything that is happening, the solidarity that people have shown us is what touches me the most. I want to thank everyone who has shown their affection to us and Estaminé,” he said.
Original article written by Maria Simiris for Barlavento newspaper.