Costa Women founder, Ali Meehan, chatted to Jill Leonard who started ‘Local Fire & Weather Watch’ on Facebook in 2012 after the fires which devastated parts of the Costa del Sol.
The groups now have more than 35,000 members in their geographically based groups around Spain warning of fires or adverse weather conditions.
Q. Jill, tell us about your life before Spain.
A: Born and bred in Manchester, my husband was in the Police for nearly 30 years and I was the area manager for a recruitment company. Working five days a week, spending weekends cleaning the house ,doing the garden etc. Sound familiar? When my husband retired in 1996 we both decided neither of us were born to be cold! We thought we would give it two years in Spain and see how we got on. 23 years later………!”
Q. Now you head up an amazing group of Facebook pages-Local Fire and Weather Watch–how did that start?
A: It was created just a few days after the massive fire near Coin in 2012. The one thing I found during the three days of the fire, particularly on the first night and following day, was that information was flying allover Facebook pages and groups. At one time I had at least 10 tabs open, all with varying degrees of information; some of it correct and some of it pure speculation. That in itself was enough to prompt me into trying to offer a more organised method of reporting factual information. This was then extended to include weather problems, once the floods started in winter. I just felt that a more constructive way of presenting information was called for. I was not, and am still not, making people join the group. It’s everyone’s choice to stay or go. All that I can assure everyone of, is that information is as factual as humanly possible for us to make it and that the safety and ability to “decision make” is the only priority for us. I know we can’t please everyone but we will try to keep everyone’s best interest at heart.”
Q. What are the objectives of the Group?
A. To provide factual information from both Twitter and the members, based locally, thus allowing the members to make informed decisions. i.e. to evacuate or not. To provide what the rules and regulations are regarding bonfires etc. during summer. To provide advice, via the authorities, about safeguarding your property against fire/floods.
Q.And since you launched, other Groups have sprung up too. Where can we find out about ones in our area?
A. We have a page showing all the links to each group, we also have a photo gallery page and chat group that gives them too.We cover from the border with Portugal, right along the Mediterranean coast to the French border, the Balearics and The Canaries. All the groups differ in size and make up of members. By far the biggest groups are Malaga province and Alicante/Valencia provinces with well over 14,000 members in Malaga and 12000 in Alicante/Valencia.
Q: Most surprising thing in the group?
A. How quickly they grew and the value that the members say they get from them. In the middle of a big fire when the administrators are running around trying to provide the information, there is always a lovely comment from a member. Surprisingly though if it wasn’t for them and their input the administrators would be sat there posting to themselves! So that is a big thank you from me! I also love the community spirit which rises once a fire is declared. Volunteers to house people and animals come in abundance. So well received by people who have been evacuated.
Q.If members want to help you as an administrator, how do they get involved?
A.With 11 groups to look after there’s lots of do, especially between 10.30am and 11.30pm (much later during a fire!) It is a massive commitment for the volunteer administrators. Oh how I wish we got paid! We are kept extremely busy during summer in fire season but thankfully less busy in winter. If anyone is interested in joining us, new administrator help is a priority for us at the moment! If any of your lovely Costa Women have the time, be a quick thinker,computer literate, ideally have basic Spanish and can commit to a shift pattern then we would love to hear from you!
Q.When you aren’t on Facebook, you enjoy being creative.Tell us how that started?
A:Phew! I wish I had more time to be creative however as I do the administrative rota on a weekly basis I do take the privilege of taking Wednesday mornings off so I can go to art class!! I am a total amateur but with help from the Teacher, Julia Holley, I am trying to hone my skills.
Q.What was the last thing you made?
A. A painting by the artist by the name of Bob Ross. He used a technique of wet on wet painting with oils, together with 1 and 2 inch brushes! The last thing I painted in his style was a mountain scene. Sadly he is dead now but Julia is an expert in his work and a great coach. I defy anyone not to be able to produce a painting given her skills and teaching ability!
Q. Your table of eight who would you invite to dinner and where would it be held?
A. Of course the first person would be my husband, Edward Fox (actor probably best known for The Day of the Jackal) for his voice and his smile, Henry VIII for the stories he could tell, my sister because she is just the nicest person I know, Billy Connelly-you have to have him for the laughs, Marilyn Monroe (to dish the dirt!!) Michelle Obama for grace and the gossip from the White House when she as there and oh,me!
Q.Something you WILL achieve by the end of 2019
A.To recruit more volunteers to help out. So we “oldies” can get some time off and bring the “newbies” on board to join a great team.
Q.The person you admire most is… and why?
A. No one person.I admire anyone overcoming illness, life problems, any adversity of any kind. The strength that some people have is just awe inspiring. They are so humbling.
Q.What are you up to over the summer?
A.Fire watching, fire watching and more fire watching! Training up a couple of new administrators. Trying to keep cool!
Q.Last book your read, or film you watched that made you laugh out loud?
A: Book? Film? What are those? Are they some sort of entertainment people have outside our groups??!! I did read Oscar Wilde books and plays during the winter but they didn’t really make me laugh out loud haha!
Q.Three things you would take to a desert island would be….?
A.If I couldn’t take my husband, being a relatively practical person, there would probably be a large knife, a strong pair of boots and a solar powered radio.
Q.Where do we find out more about Fire and Weather Watch?
A: Both these links have all the local group links: