Skyline, Sept. 5. Favela is at right of photo between neighborhood and single pink tower.

Two years ago, almost to the day (September 3, 2012), I wrote about the favela behind us burning to the ground. On that day, the fire started in the middle of the favela.

Sept. 3, 2012. Half of the favela burns to ashes.

It rose from the ashes, as its inhabitants rebuilt their lives and their habitat. Last night (September 7, 2014), it burned again. Completely, from the bottom of the favela up.

Sept. 7, 2014. Fire erupts at lowest end of the favela, and burns uphill, annihilating all in its path.

Now, I suspect, what will rise from the ashes aren’t more favela buildings, but multi-million-dollar high-rises. Since the first burning, several new luxury condo building have dotted the nearby skyline. I guess they need that land now.

I wager that within a year, a new high-rise or two will grace the skyline, next to the “soon”-to-be-completed monotrilio (monorail). That land was worth too much to “waste” on a favela, housing for the working poor.

Now all who lived there will have to find new residences, likely much further away from their place of employment than these had been. The march of progress.

Meanwhile, several thousands have lost everything they owned, unless they were able to grab something as they ran. No reports yet of lives lost, though I would be shocked if there weren’t some deaths…the fire traveled so rapidly up the hill, fueled, it looked like, by a gas line leak at lower end of the fire. The flames there burned and curled for a good two hours, long after the rest of the favela was reduced to embers.


This morning, lazily drifting smoke is the only witness to the inferno, hidden by low-lying haze.


The morning newspaper announced 500-600 residences were burned, 2,000 people were displaced, and one person was hospitalized due to smoke inhalation. Actual numbers of residences can likely be doubled (these are makeshift rooms built one on top of another), and number of residences, well, 2,000 is enough, but I’m sure the actual count is higher.

Thousands of lives altered within minutes, and little help to come from the city government. As last time, Good Samaritans will drop off items along the road: water, food, diapers, blankets, etc., for those who need them. I’ll gather clothes, shoes, and blankets today, and buy diapers and formula, and drop them off tonight. Given what happened two years ago, many of these folks will stick around on the streets until they find new homes.

But they certainly won’t be among the residents of the new buildings, you can bet on that.

ADDITION: A reader sent a link to an article (in Portuguese) “that points out that the majority of favela fires happen near areas with highly valued real estate. Residents of one favela in Penha were offered R$2000 to leave the land after the fires.

According to the article: News reporters don’t dig deeper into the story than accepting the information they are given by authorities, which generally suggest a short in wiring or dry weather as the culprits for the fire. However, a point worth noting is that, in the vast majority, the fires in São Paulo’s favelas are coincident with regions of high real estate value, and spaces that were designed as a stage for urban operations.

This interesting map shows the location of fires in slums in Sao Paulo since 2005. I wish I had an overlay for the location of today’s newest high-rises.

I understand that the burgeoning population of Sao Paulo makes land extremely valuable, especially in the central areas of the city, where favelas have been sprouting for decades. I also understand that the owners of the land have a right to build on their property, but the fact of the matter is, that property has been in use by favela dwellers for said decades, and nothing is done to accommodate their needs once the land is required for building. 

I don’t have an answer to the dilemma. I simply feel for the thousands of working poor who are now displaced, with no affordable housing available in the vicinity. Where are they to go? What are they now to do?

I don’t know whether these folks burned out last night were given the option of receiving $R2000 to leave the area. Given the number of people I see climbing over the wreckage today, I think not.