As I stepped putside the front door a piece of charred grass floated down from the sky and landed in front of me. I looked up and saw hundreds of little black specks blowing around in the wind. Somewhere nearby the mountainside was burning.
A few days later the fire has spread, working its way across the mountains. Here is the view of the smoke taken from the pier:
The road from Sorrento has been closed today, the fire spread down towards the road and didn't stop. This morning there was no fresh bread in the shops because the delivery vans could not get through. Last night people at a festa in Nocelle (a small village above Positano) said that they could see huge flames coming over the mountain, heading towards town.
This evening on the pier I asked a friend to take me out to sea so that I could see the damage the fire had done. In this photo you can see the road running through the middle and the blackened mountainside around it where the fire has burnt out and moved on:
We stopped the boat in the middle of the sea and watched as on our left two helicopters flew down to the water, lowering expandable waterbags into the sea then soared back up to douse the flames. On our right two planes swooped and dived, filling their bellies with sea-water and dumping it on the flaming hillsides. Around us swirled ash and soot, charred strands of grass and plants. A piece of soot landed on my eyelid and I blinked, rubbing it away with the back of my hand. Stefano laughed as I streaked it down my face. The surface of the sea was coated with a scattering of ash and the white of the boat quickly became filthy.
From afar the fire didn't look very fierce, just a line of small flames lighting uo the hillside, almost like a string of fairy lights. But it is not the fire that is so dangerous, it's the winds. Every afternoon at about 5pm strong gusts of wind hit the coast. On the beaches umbrellas go flying and the beach attendants are now well trained to run, when the first gust hits the beach, and close all the umbrellas before they blow away. When the summer forest fires start the wind is the enemy. It helps spread the fires, faster and stronger. Fresh air suddenly becomes smoke filled, unbreathable and the washing hanging out on the line becomes stained with black ash.
As the sun sets and the sky becomes dark, the helicopters and planes have to stop working until the next morning. The fires are left to burn all night long until dawn when the work starts again. We watched as the planes dumped their last load of water on the flames and then flew away into the distance. The fire still burned, not too close to town, and the wind had died down. Stefano drove the boat back to the pier and I turned around to take a last photo of the flames: