Southern France blackened and bruised by fires

28th July 2004, Comments 0 comments

NIMES, France, July 28 (AFP) - Residents and tourists in parts of southern France were Wednesday contemplating vast tracts of still-smouldering and blackened land left behind by scrub fires, including one huge blaze that threatened the 2,000-year-old city of Nimes overnight.

NIMES, France, July 28 (AFP) - Residents and tourists in parts of southern France were Wednesday contemplating vast tracts of still-smouldering and blackened land left behind by scrub fires, including one huge blaze that threatened the 2,000-year-old city of Nimes overnight.

More than 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) have been consumed since the fires first broke out last weekend in dry wooded areas frequently at risk in the hot summer months.

Authorities suspect several of them were started deliberately or through criminal negligence. At least three firemen have been hurt.

The most recent flared up Tuesday 15 kilometres (10 miles) northwest of Nimes. Fanned by winds gusting at 70 kilometres (40 miles) per hour, it licked at the outer suburb of Marguerittes, destroying several houses, forcing evacuations and cutting a motorway, officials said.

Around 700 firemen backed by eight water-bombing aircraft and desperate locals battled throughout the night to contain the fire, a task still underway Wednesday. "You'd think you were on the moon," a municipal official in charge of local historic sites, Vivian Mayor, said as he surveyed the razed land with eyes reddened by soot and sadness.

"There are no flowers, no insects. You can't hear any sounds of the bush. It's a catastrophe for the flora and fauna," he said.

The destruction was all the more heartbreaking for the region because it had planted many of the trees and plants wiped out this time since a similar blaze in 1989. "We had reforested everything, that cost us EUR 1.5 million (USD 1.8 million).... Now, it'll take another 15 years," Mayor said.

Along streets in the area, exhausted residents took in their changed neighbourhood: the spindly trunks of blackened pines and oaks, the melted electricity cables and piping, the charred walls and roofs of houses.

"At first I didn't want to leave when the firemen came to get me out. And then I quickly realised there was nothing that could be done," Patrick Laurens, a 38-year-old electrician said with moist eyes as he put out a few isolated flames.

His neighbour, who helped him beat back the fire through the night, said it was an "apocalyptic sight".

"Everything was burning around the house; there were even flames on the roof. We protected the walls the best we could, by wetting them. Luckily, the wind kept the fire low to the ground," she said.

"We're used to fires here, but so close to the houses - that was frightening."

Other locals flailed around for a focus of their anger, criticising some firemen brought in from other regions for not knowing the area well enough and the city council for not clearing enough woodland.

"I'm furious, but that'll be nothing if I find out that a criminal act was behind this fire," a 42-year-old housewife, Christine Duart, said.

A French senator for the region from the opposition Socialist party, Marcel Vidal, said in a statement part of the problem was the lack of management of wooded zones and spreading urbanisation.

The government has defended its actions, though, noting that it sent reinforcement fire-fighters to southern France in time for summer.

Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin warned Sunday, after the evacuation of 2,000 people from an area near Aix-en-Provence, that any convicted fire-bugs could expect "exemplary" punishment.

© AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article