Castel Fusano’s Burning – a firsthand account.

Day 1 – 21/07/2017

I’d barely shut an eye when the unexpected call of a neighbour sprang me into action.  “The fire is getting closer and closer”, he said, and indeed it was way too close not to start worrying, given my house was just a hundred yards away.  And all this I found out in the space of seconds.

At the news, the torpor with which I answered the call vanished, and in less than a minute I was out, with my camera, to join my neighbouring friend. There I realized the sheer size of the tragedy that was taking place, again!

Once on the street, although I could not see the flames, the smoke was engulfing the air, the noise of crackling wood sounded too dangerously near, and the eerie heat was telling me that something was awfully awry. And it all seemed too familiar.

You must know that we are not new to the pinewood of Castel Fusano burning.  Back in 2000, Castel Fusano pinewood fell victim of a major fire which destroyed almost 350 hectares of century-old pines and Mediterranean scrub.  In this instance, like then, the fire was caused by the hand of man, and not by some random chain of events.

With all this still fresh in my memory, I headed towards the Cristoforo Colombo, whilst scouring the web for news on the fire.  Helicopters and Canadair CL-415s, widely known as Bombardiers 145 , were already in the air, while metropolitan police had cordoned off all roads and junctions in proximity of the pinewood.

There, I made a few quick assessments.

  1. The wind was blowing 45′ to my house, which meant the fire would only come close, but not enough to cause any damage.
  2. The wind was quite strong and blowing inland, which spelt further complications for those in the air and on the ground trying to tame the flames.
  3. I attributed the couple of explosions I heard in the distance to gas tanks, which meant that the temperatures were quickly rising.

Every junction had been cordoned off by the metro police, so I needed to be extra careful not be seen going past the tape, and not get caught off guard by the fire.

In the following next 3 hours I witnessed the unfolding of a tragedy enacted by individuals of low morality, with no regard whatsoever for an environment that was already recovering, and now was being set back another 15 years, according to experts.

At the end of day 1, a young person had been reprehended, although details were still sketchy.

Day 2 – 22/07/2017

Day 2 was probably the most emotionally gruelling of all, as with it came with the realization of the real damage of the previous day.

And the news, first thing, of the arrest of another suspect, possibly one of the minds behind this otherworldly atrocity, was a meager consolation compared to the sight of destruction and desolation that the fire had left in its wake.

CL-415s and helicopters were still hard at work, trying to quench the scattered fires that were still burning.  Metro Police kept the Cristoforo Colombo closed off, to allow for the fire-fighting operations to continue undisturbed.

To make things even more bitter, that very morning I learned that the CL-415s, though managed by the National Fire Corps, were privately owned, and had been deployed with an hourly rate of €14.000.

Privatization of public resources often means that there is almost always someone benefitting from someone else’s disgrace.    And that shouldn’t be the case.

Following days

As I am writing this on the 6th day,  helicopters and CL-415s are still airborne.

Fires have kept on burning to this very day.  Nights have been characterized by thick banks of smoke that’s been creeping into the nearby houses, only to dissipate by 10am the following mornings.

Soon numbers will come in detailing the toll of these last days.