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Note to Self: Dry Southern France Can Burn, Too

September 6th, 2019 · No Comments · France

It was about 1.30 p.m. when the fire equipment began arriving. As I try to reconstruct it, it began with a siren that we attributed to a health emergency in our little town among the hills.

But it was not a lone rescue vehicle. Another came behind it, heralded by the sing-song European sirens. Then the planes came over. At least two. Perhaps a third — and a helicopter with a payload. Water, maybe?

Wait. You mean those of us in the south of France, which has gone through a particularly dry summer, worsened by gusty high winds, might be at risk during brush/forest fires?

Because we are not in California … living, instead, in a country where most areas get quite a bit of rain … doesn’t that leave us immune from the worry that our town could burn?

When I realized the answer to that was “Hell, no; this neighborhood could burn, too,” well that was a jarring moment.

At first, we peered out our windows, north and south. No smoke on the horizon, as we had seen yesterday, during a brush fire a few miles from us.

When the equipment kept showing up, I decided to go outside and do a loop of the town to see what I could see. Looking for smoke, or activity.

A few more people were out than is usual, for lunchtime on a Friday, but no one was scurrying or loading things into cars.

So, I did a circuit that gave me mostly open views in every direction. I realized the prevailing wind, which was hot and dry and from the north, would push any brush fire south — toward the heart of the town.

I studied that quadrant of sky closely and saw no smoke, and after about 20 minutes I was back in the house.

Turns out, there was a brush fire, a smallish one, but big enough to be noticed from the nearest road. And the fire was already south of the town.

A key bit: The flames were on the other side of a hill only a couple hundred yards from where we live — with a view of the summer-scorched and the kindling-dry grass in the chateau grounds behind us.

This was small potatoes, compared to some fires I have been not all that far from, while living back in the Inland Empire, just yards from the San Bernardino National Forest. Once, everyone in our suburban tract was advised to evacuate. I decided we did not need to, and it turned out we were OK. Not smart, but OK. The fire, a pretty big one, burned the bare hills north of us, but it did not reach a house in that part of suburbia.

What was strange about this burning brush … is how long it took me to concede “this could be a fire.” We have been here three years, and somewhere along the line I decided wild fires were not for France — though this part of the country is dry enough every year to see houses, even villages, hit by fires.

It was me just not reacting to a similar environment … because it was on another continent. A denial that it could be an issue.

It was.

A Facebook site that serves the town posted an item, an hour or so ago, about how yes, there had been a fire, and it had been near an ancient stone building on the edge of what used to be an airfield. I know exactly where that is.

According to the post “firefighters arrived quickly, and two water bombers and the … helicopter extinguished the start of the fire before it became larger.”

Thanks much, local firemen, for dousing the burn before it took hold.

So there goes my sense of security, when it comes to fires here. And good riddance.

The land is dry, the wind is up and most of us have trees and shrubs around us. For sure, some or all of the town could burn. I will not forget that, going forward.

Something else to keep in mind: A small fire broke out across the road from where today’s short burn had brought out the pompiers.

As authorities noted, there could be more incidents. “Two fires starting in two days on the same sector, it is ,to say the least, suspect.”


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