Marseille is Burning

The outskirts of Marseille are burning, more than 2,000 acres so far, and the cause of the blaze was an artillery training exercise in a military camp outside the city. More specifically, according to Jean-Dominique Merchet, the fire was likely set off by the pyrotechnic tracer rounds that accompanied the artillery.

Having spent six years in the foothills about an hour or so northeast of Marseille, and having done quite a bit of wandering through the parched forest and brush during the high-risk summer fire season, I can tell you that only a moron would shoot off pyrotechnic tracer rounds at this time of year. Things are so dry, you can almost hear the fire ready to break out every time your feet crackle against dead brush.

It’s also a part of the country that still employs the bright yellow-and-red Canadair firefighting planes. I remember on numerous occasions being up at the nearby lake, and seeing them swoop in, circle once to warn people, then dive down and gather up water before flying off. Once I was up there out of season and saw a line of them dive in on a training run, one after the other.

Piloting the heavy, water-logged, prop planes over the turbulent, patchy drafts and air currents a massive fire creates is apparently one of the toughest assignments there is. So I’m sure there’s no love lost right now between the Marseille civil defense squad and the unit that carried out that artillery exercise.