OTHER WORLD Shepherd loses half his flock in fire

Spanish farmer was forced to flee the place where he has worked since the age of 18

July 25, 2012

Biure: The flames consumed practically everything, including half his flock, when wildfire swept through David Juan Bret’s farm in northeastern Spain.

Trapped in their metal pen, the farm animals burned alive in their hundreds.

“The flames devoured everything,” says the farmer, 37, pointing to the charred bodies of the sheep strewn over the ground, amid the sickening smell of smoke and burned meat.

Water-bombing planes drone overhead as firefighters work to quell the blaze which has burned since breaking out at the nearby French border on Sunday, ravaging 32,000 acres and killing four people.

Bret was forced to flee the farm where he has worked since the age of 18, leaving his sheep to the flames.

“About half of the ewes panicked. They gathered under an iron walkway where they burned,” he says.

His sister Nuria Juan, 33, fled for the night to the nearby town of Figueres when the fire came.

“When I came back, it was really sad. Everything is black, where the countryside was so green before,” she said, her voice trembling.

Firefighters, aided by weaker winds, cooler temperatures and higher air humidity levels, brought the wildfire under control on Tuesday but officials said they do not expect it to be fully extinguished before the weekend.

Some 1,500 people, including emergency and military personnel and local volunteers, battled the blaze, backed by 25 French and Spanish aircraft.

Emergency services ordered thousands of residents in 17 towns to stay indoors with their windows and doors shut because of the threat from the smoke and flames.

Spain is at higher risk of forest fires than ever this summer after suffering its driest winter in 70 years, which has ruined crops and caused numerous blazes across the country.

Among the blackened ruins of the Juans’ farm, the grass around the metal barn still crackled with fire, near the charred corpse of a lamb.

But David Juan says he will never abandon the farm.

“It’s very important to move forward, even if I am not sure of receiving state aid and although things are very difficult in the crisis,” he said, as farm workers stacked his dead sheep on fires to dispose of them.

Like many Spaniards in the current recession, Juan survives thanks to family and friends, such as his uncle who leads out the flock to pasture on what will now be charred black fields.

“Everyone has come to help me,” David Juan smiles.

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