Martiros Wildfire

Many days have passed since my last entry, and it’s not from lack of activity. The days have been so full that I haven’t had the time, nor energy. As I was preparing to leave the cave-church at Martiros, my director received a call from Yerevan. Our producer informed us that there was a huge wildfire raging near the fields and mountains of one of the villages we had recently passed through. Intrigued to capture real action on camera and to help those who had showed us so much kindness, we jumped into the four-by-four and headed back south to see what we could do.

First, we saw the smoke the size of a football field, thick, and opaque, rising behind the mountains. Then the scoured, blackened earth at the peak of the mountain range leading into the closest village. We filled up all our empty water bottles, close to fifteen liters of water, and headed up to the heart of the fire. There we saw crowds of people—soldiers, policemen, firefighters and villagers from throughout the region had come to fight the flames, to save the village and the fields of dry golden grain, their livelihood. The five of us got out and started passing out water to the exhausted volunteers, and then joined in, cutting branches off live trees to stomp out the borders of the ever-growing flames.

Where I’d normally get cold looks and inquisitive conversation, the mood was silent; every man was there to work, knowing the danger and difficulty of the task ahead of them. We were a colony of ants fighting an angry lion, furiously scattering across the edge of the flames and stamping them out with our branches, but after ten thumps the flames would win. The firefighters had their truck and hosed down the encroaching fire, but after two strong sparks, they had to retreat to reload. Then, a military helicopter emerged out of the thick smoke to the south, probably dumping a payload of water, or maybe just scouting the catastrophe. It was then, hours after arriving, that we left, with tearing eyes and a deep cough in our lungs. We did what we could, but had to carry on with our work.