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Message From Madeira

As major events happen across Europe our Archdeacons are regularly in touch with local churches and areas affected by incidents in the news. On Thursday 11 August wildfires in the South of France are reported to be encroaching on Marseilles. A day earlier Archdeacon Geoff Johnston was in contact with Rev John Blair, Chaplain in the Atlantic island of Madeira, where fires have also been causing chaos and fear. Father John sent this report in reply.

The Island has taken a battering recently with extremely high temperatures and a long dry spell followed by very high winds and the actions of (we believe) a pyromaniac. The fires spread all over the place with phenomenal speed.

Several of our folk spent last night firefighting round 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 was much subdued today with everyone shattered and staying at home to clear up. There has been much damage, many homes including beautiful Quintas and a hotel in the hills lost to fires, three deaths and many injured. Hundreds of firefighters were flown in from Azores and 23 water dumping aircraft from the Mainland. I believe the gardens at Monte are gone. I was impressed by the resilience of people here after the floods of 5 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.

My photo (below) was taken from the parsonage balcony last night of a fierce fire fight just behind us around the church of Sao Pedro. The church wasn't damaged as far as I could see this morning (I still couldn't get near this evening) but several houses have been destroyed. The Bombeiros got firefighters on a crane fighting the fire from above and then the wind stopped!!  The papers this morning praised the heroic efforts to save the historic centre of the city.