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Chasing Smoke: Massimo Berruti’s Notes from the Field

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It is one of my last days here in the Naples Hinterland, I just reached Castel Volturno, one of the places I’m interested in. Here, two main sources of wastewater reach the sea, resulting in tons of raw sewage released every day.

I just stepped out of the car and turned my head back to the east for no particular reason, just to take a look around, and I notice a giant column of black smoke. It is very far, no clue about its exact location, but the more I look at it and the more accurate my impression is about its scale. This is something different, this is huge.

The black and dense smoke is the evidence of something toxic burning out. I’m shaken and a bit frustrated as I presume I’m too far away from it to reach in time; but want to try anyways. So I get back in the car and start driving.

While moving toward it, the ash column gets larger and larger; it is really impressive. This is not one of the fires this land is used to.

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After 20 to 25 minutes driving, the column gets so massive and defined that it is better to leave the car and continue the journey by foot. Not sure how far away I am but apparently not too much further.

While I’m crossing a busy road I start hearing loud explosions coming from it. It is strange, normally this does not happen with the burning of waste. Let’s hope this is not a chemical factory.

A man in his car looks at me carrying the camera and calls me from the window:

“Are you a journalist?”

“Yep… sort of…why?”

“Well, just to let you know, that thing burning there…how to say…it is an impound lot for confiscated vehicles…you know what I mean?”

“I have an impression sir, but thanks. Thanks a lot.”

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Three hundred vehicles burned out in that fire, nearly all of them. They were stacked one on top of the other.

They were under custody, supposed to be sold in police auctions. When I reached the place there were no police, there were no firemen. Authorities reached the fire ten minutes after I did, after at least the 40 minutes prior I noticed the fire by chance and began to drive towards from a distance of 20 kilometers.

“…you know what I mean?”

- Massimo Berruti, 2015 Emergency Fund Grantee

Katerina Voegtle