MaltaToday previous editions

MALTATODAY 3 July 2022

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 11 of 47

12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 3 JULY 2022 NEWS Olive farmer's 50 years of work perish in flames in Swieqi grassfire LUKE VELLA A labour of love that lasted half a century went up in flames for farmer Joe Caruana, 67 when on 30 May, he lost his 30-tumolo olive grove to the flames of a grassfire that erupted in the Wied il-Kbir in Swieqi. Caruana's family had worked the land here for over 200 years, with Joe venturing into oil production in the last years, where he spent most of time attending to hun- dreds of olive trees. A month since losing his grove to the Swieqi grassfire, the grim aftermath is vis- ible for every-one to see: a vast amount of burnt trees, grassland and the nearby fields, with the odour of burnt wood still persistent in the area. In a tour of the grove, Caruana pointed at the various number of trees that survived the fires. Once utilised to grow seasonal produce like potatoes, cauliflowers and onions, Caruana later shifted his focus on- to olive oil. "We still have a good number of fruit trees, but the produce is for per- sonal consumption. However, the produc- tion of olive oil is commercialised. Last year we managed to produce 274 litres of pure olive oil; in between 2009 and 2021, we produced over 1,990 litres. We started out around 15 years ago and we kept in- creasing the number of trees every year." Caruana remarked how he and his sib- lings attend to their crops every day in- cluding Sunday. "It takes a lot of work to ultimately produce the olive oil. Towards the end of October, the olives start to ma- ture and the picking starts. We don't use any machines and we pick it all by hand." Caruana's family does not use machines, fearing they could damage the produce, which ultimately affects the final product. "We are usually around six people, my siblings and some friends who come over to help. The olives are stored in boxes in fridges and when we collect around 400 kilograms. I take it all to Wardija where it is crushed." The crushed olives are then left to settle for around 12 days, after which the sedi- ment is re-moved and the olive oil remains. It was on 30 May, that Joe and his sister were resting in the shade at 2pm, eating a piece of bread, when they noticed a grass- fire at a distance. "The fire seemed quite distant but in around five minutes, the whole valley was taken over by the flames," Caruana said. "Everywhere was on fire and I can't tell you the desperation I felt as 50 years of hard work perished in flames." Caruana explained that the fire originat- ed from Wied il-Għomor in San Ġwann, but the high winds on the day made it eas- ier for the fire to spread rapidly. The Civil Protection Department was quick to re- spond, appearing on the spot instantly. But Caruana expressed disappointment that the fire-fighting efforts were mainly fo- cused on the villas overlooking the valley, whilst his trees were destroyed to ashes. 30 firefighters, four officers and 10 CPD vehicles were deployed on the day and over 120,000 litres of water were utilised. "Luckily, since we plough our land, the fire didn't spread as much as it did in other areas. But this is not the first time we had grassfires in the area and we make sure to plough often so as to minimise the risks. Regretfully on that day, the winds did not favour us," Caruana said. Despite the peril, Caruana did not aban- don the place and stayed in his field until Joe Caruana lost around 250 olive trees in the 30 May grassfire in the Swieqi valley, costing him some €95,000 Jose Caruana expressed disappointment that the fire-fighting efforts were mainly focused on the villas overlooking the valley, whilst his trees were destroyed to ashes

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of MaltaToday previous editions - MALTATODAY 3 July 2022