One late summer’s day, about 13 years ago, my husband was working with his brother and father in their carpentry workshop in Burrel when they heard a massive explosion that shook the building. Across the valley the usual view they had of their farm amongst the trees was obscured by an enormous plume of smoke (my husband described it like the mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion).
They ran into the centre of town to find out what was going on but it wasn’t until many days later that they learnt the full story – that a man living on the land of a former military base at the mouth of the valley had been using a metal grinder, the sparks from which hit the weapons storage area igniting a fire, creating a massive explosion and sending missiles firing across the valley and the flat land.
People ran for their lives, sheltering wherever they could. At the farm the three families, and neighbours, gathered in two rooms that were somewhat protected by concrete roofs.
Leaving his brother in town, my husband went with his father and found a furgon (van) driver who was heading out past the road to the farm to check on his own family. They sped off, persuading the army officers now blocking the road to let them past. The smoke was making it difficult to see the road and there were still missiles firing off in all directions.
The walk from the main road to the farm was desolate – there was absolutely no one outside. My husband and his father were fully expecting to find their family dead. But when they made it to the farm a quick head count confirmed all were safe and sound. At midnight they ventured out to survey the damage to the houses closest to the weapons depot.
Over the next few days the area was swarming with police and army personnel searching the area for damage and bodies. It was nine days after the weapons depot exploded that a trail of ants led searchers to dig down through the ruins of the house on the military base and they found the man with his grinder buried deep under the rubble and burnt almost beyond recognition.
Walking the land was dangerous in the days and months following as there was unexploded ordnance covering the whole area. Searches and clean ups were tentatively carried out – before taking every footstep the ground was closely examined.
Much of the unexploded ordnance was cleared. But not all. It was many months later when my husband’s young cousins took their cows out to graze. And that’s where my other tale begins.