The day of the fire I was at home. There was a strong burning smell. Outside a thick cloud of smoke filled the air. In just a few minutes, the smoke enveloped the entire favela. I quickly understood that the fire was serious. I went to go find my camera, and then ran to safety outdoors with several neighbours, because at that point the fire was spreading at a rapid pace. I then began filming as the flames wreaked havoc on the favela.
When the firemen arrived a few minutes later, I put down my camera to go and help them. It took hours to put out the flames. Looking around afterwards, all we could see were scenes of destitution. Almost every home in the favela had burned to the ground; there was nothing left. By complete chance, my house was one of the few that was left untouched by the fire. But more than 200 families lost everything.
There’s no real place or system to deal with waste. People throw their rubbish wherever they want. The favela’s residents burn their trash on a regular basis. There are even some who melt down scrap metal to extract copper, which they then resell for a good price. All it takes is a gust of wind or an accident to spark a fire.
Here, people live in ramshackle homes made out of sheets of recycled wood. Those whose houses were destroyed in the fire have been left with almost nothing, as you can see in the photos, and don’t know where else to go. Some have turned to loved ones who live in other favelas. The city has also set up temporary housing. But in the end, the majority of people have chosen to wait patiently on the side of the road until their homes can be rebuilt in the same place. It takes about 20 days to build a new house.
There have been similar fires in Sao Paulo over the past few years, and each time, the local authorities say the same thing. They say that they’re going to help families who have been stranded, but in the end they do nothing. Instead, other makeshift homes are built over the wreckage. We’re used to it – it’s the fifth time in 10 years that our favela has caught fire.
All photos courtesy of our Observer.