View Full Version : Fury at French army over wildfire

07-23-2009, 09:28 AM
The French army has come under stinging criticism after a military exercise caused a forest fire that forced people to flee their threatened homes.

The local prefect condemned the exercise, which sparked a fire that spread from the countryside to the outskirts of Marseille, as "imbecilic".

Michel Sappin said the military knew the scrubland was vulnerable because the same thing had happened last year.

The fire started when soldiers fired tracer bullets against regulations.

The blaze threatened some 400 homes and elderly residents had to be evacuated.

Personally, I can't see the need to carry out military exercises in 32-degree heat and a strong wind
Marseille Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin

Inhabitants of a retirement home in La Panouse, south of Marseille, had to be carried away in their pyjamas at 0300 (0100 GMT). A nearby centre for the disabled was also cleared as the fire approached.

By Thursday morning, rescue workers said it had been brought under control, although some 500 firefighters remain at the scene. Seven firefighters and police were slightly injured overnight.

'Violation of orders'

Marseille's mayor and senator, Jean-Claude Gaudin, demanded that the military help out with the clean-up operation.

"Personally, I can't see the need to carry out military exercises in 32-degree heat and a strong wind. It must really have been someone who is not from around here who took this decision," he said.

"We did the best we can but when you're faced with this kind of incredible stupidity, you need to say so with a certain force."

Later, military spokesman Col Benoit Royal said it had found that tracer rounds had been "used in violation of orders given".

As a result, the army general staff decided to suspend the soldier in charge, a section head of the 1st Foreign Legion regiment.

Strong winds and high temperatures have helped trigger fires across the region. In Spain, the high-speed rail link between Madrid and Barcelona has been suspended because of blazes in the north-east of the country.

Four firefighters were killed in Tarragona province on Wednesday, while more than 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

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