Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

IN THE PAPERS

France concerned about anti-Semitism

Read more

WEB NEWS

Online movement demands peace in Gaza

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Apple aims to satisfy China's hunger for smartphones

Read more

DEBATE

MH17: Punishing Putin? (part two)

Read more

DEBATE

MH17: Punishing Putin?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Competing narratives in Malaysia Airlines disaster coverage

Read more

AFRICA NEWS

Kenya : Police arrest 8 over Mombasa rampage

Read more

FOCUS

Overfishing and the global appetite for bluefin tuna: can Tokyo turn the tide?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Too many graphic images from Gaza ?

Read more

  • Video: Fear, death and mourning in Gaza’s Khan Younis

    Read more

  • Kerry arrives in Israel to push for Gaza ceasefire

    Read more

  • Defying UK, France to proceed with warships sale to Russia

    Read more

  • Netherlands to honour MH17 victims in national day of mourning

    Read more

  • US courts issue conflicting reports on Obamacare

    Read more

  • Video: Lebanon fears fallout from regional turmoil

    Read more

  • Widodo wins Indonesian presidential election

    Read more

  • Flight MH17 shot down ‘by mistake', US intelligence indicates

    Read more

  • US, European airlines suspend flights to Tel Aviv

    Read more

  • Australian veteran Rogers claims 16th stage of Tour de France

    Read more

  • France gives go-ahead to pro-Palestinian Paris rally

    Read more

  • French Jews mourn French-Israeli soldier killed in Gaza

    Read more

  • PSG punished by UEFA for abuse of disabled Chelsea fans

    Read more

  • Colombia's Rodriguez signs '€80m' contract with Real Madrid

    Read more

  • Children killed in minibus crash in eastern France

    Read more

France

Army exercise starts wildfires near Marseille suburbs

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-23

Military practice shelling has started wildfires on the eastern outskirts of Marseille, threatening dozens of homes but claiming no victims, rescue services reported.

AFP - A Foreign Legion drill instructor was suspended Thursday after what was branded an "imbecilic" shooting exercise triggered a huge wildfire that threatened the outskirts of Marseille.
   
No-one was killed as the blaze ripped through 1,100 hectares (2,718 acres) of brush and damaged homes in the suburbs of France's second city, but one fireman suffered burns and four rescuers were treated for smoke inhalation.
   
The fire erupted on Wednesday after troops from the 1st Foreign Legion Regiment used tracer rounds, which contain an incendiary substance to make them visible in flight, during a practice session at their base.
   
At dawn on Thursday firefighters pronounced the blaze under control, but this did little to calm the anger of local officials, who noted that this was the second time in as many years that the army had started a wildfire.
   
Local prefect Michel Sappin, the French government's senior regional offical and police chief, blasted the "imbecilic" actions of the military.
   
"It was the same thing last year near the camp in Canjuers. That was the biggest fire last summer," he said. Thursday's fire, started at a camp in Carpiagne, was the worst to hit southern France in three years.
   
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 round 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," he added.
   
The military accepted responsibility for the fire.
   
"It was found that tracer rounds were used in violation of orders given. As a result, the army general staff has taken an interim decision to suspend the leader responsable from his duties," Colonel Benoit Royal announced.
   
Philippe Pancarzi, head of Marseille's fire service, told local radio that the fire had stopped spreading. "At around 7:00 am, there were still some sources of fire, but the fire is contained and under control," he said.
   
But with winds not forecast to weaken before evening, "we are keeping all our assets on the scene," including nearly 500 firefighters -- backed up by water dropping planes -- spread over eight kilometres (five miles).
   
Thick black smoke swirled around the area, covering Marseille.
   
Residents of a retirement home in La Panouse, south of the city, were evacuated at around 3:00 am Thursday, many still in their pyjamas and some in wheelchairs, as the blaze approached.
   
In the same district 90 people in a centre for the handicapped managed to leave the establishment in their own buses.
   
The fire moved down a hill outside the city and threatened the Trois-Ponts and La Barasse districts. Residents sprayed water on the outside of their homes before they moved out.
   
Several homes were damaged, but none destroyed, apart from some hill cabins and a shepherd's hut. Residents were evacuated from some areas, but some had begun to return by morning.
   
People in neighbouring La Barasse also left, although local authorities said no evacuation order had been given.
   
Local member of parliament Guy Tessier, who is chairman of the National Assembly's defence committee, said he would demand an administrative inquiry within the army and a separate police inquiry.
   
Director of public security Pascal Lalle said 135 policemen were on hand in the affected zones to watch over the houses, prevent looting and allow firemen to access the area.
   
The D559 highway between southern Marseille and the town of Cassis was closed Thursday.

Date created : 2009-07-23

COMMENT(S)