The forest fire stopped just before arriving at Nieves Fernández Vidueira’s farm, but it burned all day in the area surrounding Quintela do Pando in Galicia, northwestern Spain.

"I will never forget the terror that I felt," Fernández said. "When we woke up, we couldn’t even breathe. Everything was covered with smoke; it seemed like night; chunks of scorched bark fell from the sky."

Fernández, 59, is a shepherd and poet who said she will always remember Oct. 16, 2017, when all the neighbors went to the nearby village of Fradelo to help the firefighters. "The trees made a terrible noise and fell to the charred ground. I saw rabbits and roe deer escaping from the fire; people cried all around. Right now, I still cry when I remember it."

During that time, Galicia experienced an unusual heat wave, as happened in other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. "Many hectares were destroyed during a day of flames and the fire stopped at an area of chestnut trees grazed by sheep, surrounding my field. Livestock are a fundamental part of forest fire prevention, by eating the grass in the undergrowth, and highly combustible lichens on the trees," Fernández said.

That day, she composed a poem to express feelings of sadness and impotence after seeing the woods transformed into a dark desert.

Fernández became a shepherd at 19 when she was expecting her first son. She decided at the time to leave Madrid and come back to Quintela do Pando, where she grew up.

“In the past, practically only men worked as shepherds: A woman like me broke all the existing patterns. Then, if in the meantime sheep are grazing, you bring with you a knife and carve wood toys for your children [as I was used to] you break all the molds," she explains.

It all started with the 18 sheep owned by her grandmother. Now she has 400 Galician sheep, or ovella galega, a breed classified as in danger of extinction, grazing among chestnut trees (Castanea sativa), oak (Quercus robur), elm (Ulmus spp.) and hazelnut (Corylus spp.). The sheep eat lichens and bushes such as tojo (or gorse, Ulex europaeus), brezo (heather, Erica ciliaris), and xesta (Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius).

Read the full article about agroforestry to fight forest fires by Monica Pelliccia at GreenBiz.