Monday, 29 August 2016

The fire on Monte San Costanzo - considerations

On Sunday I decided to go and see for myself the state of the trails above Punta Campanella following the fire a few days ago. 
I set off from Termini, taking the path towards Punta Campanella, but branching up left before the tip to the belvedere of Rezzale. From there I followed the track (very evident now that there is little vegetation left to hide it) up the ridge as far as Campo Vetavole, veering left along the Vuallariello (part of the Giro di Santa Croce) before cutting up to the belvedere di Mitigliano and returning to Termini.

track to Rezzale
Some observations:
  • the fire only reached the newly restored path to Punta Campanella for a short stretch, well before the tip, and didn't cross it.
  • the track up to the viewpoint at Rezzale functioned well as a fire barrier. This is probably what saved the tip itself with the tower and lighthouse. On the side of the hill everything was burnt, on the side towards the sea the vegetation was untouched.
  • here and there were inexplicable, isolated and random patches of vegetation that had been spared, with even a solitary clump of grass in the middle of the cinders. 
  • the overall impression was dark and lunar; every now and then there was a splash of yellow from the wild fennel flowers.
  • the only victim I found along the way was a dead snake looking bemused. However crows were circling above, as was a solitary falcon.The lizards
    were out and about, the insects buzzing around and swallows swooping.
  • the ancient terracing and dry-stone walls are the new protagonists of the landscape, especially once you reach Campo Vetavole. 
  • the trails are all perfectly viable, although I personally would not like to go along the path above the bay of Jeranto now that there is no vegetation to act as a barrier and presumably a lot of loose stone. I had to move a few small charred branches obstructing the Vuallariello, but nothing major. Wet wipes are essential before you return to civilization. My legs were nearly as black as the hillside.
Considerations of a more serious nature.
I totally agree with Giovanni Visetti (see his latest blog "Pyromaniacs? No excuses, these are arsonists"). This fire was deliberate. It was not the work of irresponsible barbecue addicts, maniacs or self-combustion. And not only that, it was well-planned down to the finest detail. The local fire-fighters were already busy fighting a fire that had been started earlier over near the village of Torca. It was a windy day, the fires were started in several points (so if one didn't "take", another would..), it was late evening and already dark. This meant that the helicopters couldn't intervene until daylight, and then in any case their first priority was Torca where houses were at risk. The helicopter arrived here at lunchtime.
This meant that the fire had ample time to spread, and spread it certainly did. The first attempts to put it out were not particularly successful, so overnight the fire took hold again, but worse, moving off the mountainside and racing down the ridge. Day 2 saw  the helicopter return, but this time with the more effective Canadair plane, and in the end the fire abated.
Many people will remember that a few weeks ago there were two large, virtually contemporary fires in the Bay of Naples: one on Capri, the other on Vesuvius. Obviously firefighting resources are limited and if they are needed in two places at once, it becomes complicated..they have to choose. 
All this makes one think that the fires are not only 100% deliberate, but directed from "above" by someone who plans and organizes, sending the arsonists to do their dirty work and then reaping the advantages (presumably economical) of the consequences of the fires. Over the years there have been  a thousand fingers pointed in various directions: shepherds, foresters, hunters, building speculators, rock climbers, helicopter pilots, pilots, the companies managing the Canadair and helicopter services, officials of provincial and regional governments, the Civil Protection Agency, each probably infiltrated at some level by a criminal organisation. In other words, anyone but a pyromaniac. If this is the case, then it can only get worse since the rot evidently comes from the top. All we can hope for is that sooner or later a miracle will happen and the perpetrators  identified and duly punished.
However in the meantime, through our photos and our blogs, we can at least try to make everyone more aware of the dangers of lighting a fire in the open at the height of the summer, something which in any case is illegal. Last year the fire was the result of a group of irresponsibles  . This year is quite a different story.

Thursday, 25 August 2016


Just over a year ago I published a series of blogs about our annual nightmare: fire.

Whilst this summer there had already been several bad fires further down the Amalfi Coast, our area so far had been relatively unaffected. Until last night.
I had just gone to bed when I heard a familiar crackling sound. I looked through the shutters and could see a ring of flames high up on the slopes of Monte San Costanzo. 

Although the wind was not particularly strong, it was enough to fuel the flames which soon spread up, down and along the hillside. 
We phoned the emergency services, but they said they were busy fighting another fire and had no resources. In fact we found out this morning that it was near the village of Torca towards Crapolla. Perfect timing by whoever organised all of this...two separate fires, in different points and at night.

In any case at that point there was absolutely nothing that could be done. It was dark, it was inaccessible and not threatening any houses. 

It was spectacularly awful to watch, moments of virtual calm  followed by moments when the flames suddenly leaped high towards the sky or rushed crazily across the mountainside. 

In the end I went back to bed, but was soon wide awake again since the crackling noise had intensified, accompanied by an eerie whooshing sound. Back onto the terrace and the fire had spread, still high enough not to worry the village of Nerano down below, but racing right and left, wherever it could find anything to burn. 

This morning I woke early. There were still isolated flames here and there, but  smoke could be seen rising behind the chapel on top of the mount. The fire had evidently spread to the other side of the mountain and was now attacking the area above Jeranto and towards Punta Campanella. When I left this morning I could see that it had burned a perfect ring around the chapel.

The helicopter apparently arrived towards midday, swooping down to the sea to fill its bucket before attempting to douse the blaze. As I was driving back home mid afternoon, the fire-engine,  police and emergency services were racing up the road towards the village of Termini, their sirens blaring. The acrid smell of charred wood fills the air.The fire is still burning.

photo above courtesy of Luigi Esposito (Capri).

Monday, 8 August 2016


Yesterday I returned to Punta Campanella, curious to see how the newly restored path was holding up and what novelties there might be along the way.
I had only just started walking down  when I heard a moped approaching from behind. When it drew level, I told the riders  very politely that non-resident vehicles were not allowed. They were a young, foreign couple and seemed rather surprised. On hearing that it was a good 30 minute walk, they decided to turn round and give it a miss. Maybe a bigger, more obvious "in your face" notice well before the present small, decrepit one could be an idea?
I continued on my way. The path is now beginning to look  less new, merging better into its surroundings.  This is positive and quite honestly I don't consider it the urban (or rather extra-urban) disaster that it was initially made out to be. 
I could  now hear another, much noisier vehicle approaching, this time from the opposite direction. It soon came into sight - an ancient dilapidated "vespa" transporting an elderly fisherman and his catch of the day. He cheerily waved and went on his way. He has probably been doing this for years, even before the work on the path. Hence the state of his scooter!
Walking further down I came to the first of a series of placards, placed on  rocks like wall-top lecterns. These illustrate various aspects of the path: historical, mythical, geological, flora and fauna and lastly a plan of the tip with key structures (past and present) evidenced. They are in Italian and English, but not too long, not too complicated and simply written. For once even the English translation is virtually spot on and anyone who has seen some of the existing local public notices, magazine articles, hotel and excursion websites  will know exactly what I mean. If I want to be really picky, it is a pity that they weren't properly proofread to avoid the occasional typo, but all in all a  job well done.
What is not so good is the state of the path along  the unpaved stretches. The stones are fast coming loose and I shudder to think what will happen once we get the heavy winter rainfalls. On a positive note, it will soon become extremely difficult for mopeds to continue going right to the tip... even in its present state, you are risking. 
Maybe that will resolve the problem for the local authorities before they get their act together and devise a way of making the path really pedestrian only.
And as for the less mobile.. well, despite the funding having been obtained to make it accessible to all, this has never actually ever been the case. It is just not realistic in its present state. Up to a point, fine, better than before; as far as the tip and the tower, no way!