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Downham Market couple Joe and Charity Bernice hope to rebuild dreams after Portugal fire

PUBLISHED: 08:16 07 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:24 07 November 2017

On October 15, 2017 Joe and Charity Bernice saw large smoke plumes across the hills from where they were staying in Portugal. Picture: Joe Bernice

On October 15, 2017 Joe and Charity Bernice saw large smoke plumes across the hills from where they were staying in Portugal. Picture: Joe Bernice

Joe Bernice

A couple's dream of opening an animal sanctuary abroad has turned to ashes after a fire destroyed their home overseas.

Joe and Charity Bernice found their efforts to build a luxury vegan campsite and animal sanctuary in Portugal  burnt to the ground. Picture: Joe BerniceJoe and Charity Bernice found their efforts to build a luxury vegan campsite and animal sanctuary in Portugal burnt to the ground. Picture: Joe Bernice

Joe Bernice, 37, and his wife Charity, 36, were victims of the huge wave of fires which engulfed Portugal last month.

Earlier this year the couple, from Downham Market, bought land in central Portugal with a view to move their permanently.

“Since becoming vegan about three years ago, we have wanted to change direction with our lives to help abused animals,” Mr Bernice said. “So we thought about creating a small animal sanctuary and fund it with luxury camping accommodation aimed at vegans.

“We didn’t have the funds to do something in this country so we decided to buy a piece of land in Portugal, as we had been before and enjoyed our time there.”

Joe and Charity Bernice, from Downham Market, are trying to raise £2,000 in order to build their dream of setting up a luxury vegan campsite and small animal sanctuary, Picture: Joe BerniceJoe and Charity Bernice, from Downham Market, are trying to raise £2,000 in order to build their dream of setting up a luxury vegan campsite and small animal sanctuary, Picture: Joe Bernice

Mr Bernice, a driver for the Norfolk County Council highways department, moved to Portugal in September to get started on the work. He had been staying in a caravan which he had bought from a Portuguese couple, who incidentally bought it in Norfolk after coming back from Dereham, and his wife joined him in October.

But on October 15, the couple noticed smoke billowing in their direction and by that evening they fled in a van after seeing a forest fire was heading towards them.

The next morning as the fire died down, they went back to inspect the damage but found all their hard work had been lost.

Mr Bernice said: “It was certainly very upsetting for us both to see the caravan burnt to the ground, along with many of our possessions.

On October 15, 2017 Portugal was hit by a number of large forest fires. Joe and Charity Bernice, from Downham Market, lost their caravan and everything in it. Picture Joe BerniceOn October 15, 2017 Portugal was hit by a number of large forest fires. Joe and Charity Bernice, from Downham Market, lost their caravan and everything in it. Picture Joe Bernice

“As disappointed as we are, we realise that it could have been much worse; other people have lost their lives, homes and businesses. Other animals must have also lost their lives and homes, we had a family of roe deer regularly wander through our property, I hope they are ok.”

The couple have returned to Downham Market and have set up a fundraising page to buy another caravan in order to start the project again.

“We’ve been reading stories of others who were victims of the fires and many say the same thing: if only we had done this or that, “ Mr Bernice said.

“But we need to remember that we didn’t lose absolutely everything whereas others did.”

Joe and Charity Bernice found their efforts to build a luxury vegan campsite and animal sanctuary in Portugal  burnt to the ground. Picture: Joe BerniceJoe and Charity Bernice found their efforts to build a luxury vegan campsite and animal sanctuary in Portugal burnt to the ground. Picture: Joe Bernice

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