[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Anglican priest serving the island of Madeira has spoken of the resilience of local people as they battled severe fires which ravaged the community. Three people were killed in the blazes, which are thought to have been caused by arsonists. The fires were so big that firefighters were flown in from the Azores and the Portuguese mainland to help bring them under control.
The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, visited the semi-autonomous island, located some 430 miles off the coast of Morocco, to see the extent of the damage and to thank the firefighters for their work in extinguishing the fires.
The Revd John Blair serves as chaplain to the Atlantic island as part of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Speaking about the fires, he said: “Several of our folk spent last night firefighting around their homes with neighbours. It is possible that one may have sustained some property damage but she is waiting for her husband to return from a business trip before she goes home, so I have nothing definite to go on. She and her neighbours escaped with their lives. I have spoken to several folk who have been greatly frightened and shocked; but now they thank God and get on with the business of clearing up.
“Several were evacuated and are glad to get home. The smoke was very invasive and the wind carried soot everywhere. I set to with brush and damp cloths to clear a space for this morning’s Holy Communion, and we have a cleaning party coming into church tomorrow!”
The town of Funchal was subdued following the fire “with everyone shattered and staying at home to clear up,” he said.
“There has been much damage, many homes including beautiful Quintas and a hotel in the hills lost to fires, three deaths and many injured. . . I believe the gardens at Monte are gone.
“I was impressed by the resilience of people here after the floods of five years ago, and that same spirit was evident over the past few days with many heart-warming stories of neighbours helping each other to restaurateurs feeding emergency services.”