Friday, 29 August 2008
Fire in Southwest France
Decided to take a trip down to the Corbiéres last night to visit friends. The landscape down there is in complete contrast to our part of the Aude. It's far more rugged down towards the Mediterranean coast. Miles of scrub, pine trees filling the air with their sweet fragrance, intense heat beating down on the rocks protruding from the hillsides. The air is sharp and crystal clear.
As we headed towards our friends I noticed a black billowing cloud of smoke snaking up into the sky. It looked like a house on fire. Introductions, kisses and pleasantries were exchanged but our attentions were drawn towards the plume of smoke which was getting larger by the minute situated on the hill beyond. Suddenly the buzzing of a helicopter could be heard and within minutes a small white plane circled overhead. The fire began to take hold and huge belches of black smoke poured upwards to the piercing blue sky. By now everyone was riveted and watching the direction of the wind anxiously and quietly. 'The Pompiers will evacuate us if it gets dangerous' one of the men said but the women continued to vigilantly scan the skyline with some unease.
Suddenly in the most spectacular curve heading towards us as if in a fly by formation came the solid bright yellow fire planes. Like enormous cumbersome prehistoric dinosaurs they rumbled directly overhead and with practised swoops discharged their cargo of water into the sickly yellow heart of the fire. Six of them, one after another, backwards and forwards refilling their tanks with water sucked up from the sea. By now the road below was filled with a line of cars. People stood wordlessly and watched as the sound of crackling echoed in the distance. The sight of the jagged red flames licking over the top of the hill bought gasps from the crowd. A lone white truck had driven up the path and sat perched on the very top of the hill glistening against the dull grey. A lone peacock wailed forlornly, the dogs barked their warnings and worried at our ankles.
But the planes persevered and slowly the ugly mushrooming clouds dwindled. By the time we were all sitting down to eat with a much needed glass of wine the hill beyond was just a deep pink glow although we later learn that it destroyed 200 hectares which is 500 acres and the first serious fire this year on the Mediterranean coast.
Fire is a cruel monster when started deliberately and threatening to be out of control but it's hold over you as a spectator is undeniably powerful.