There are plenty of smokers here to pitch butts onto the roadsides. We awoke Sunday at 2 AM to the sound of crackling flames that in our grogginess at first looked like fireworks. It was a fire just 50 meters from the house. It turned out OK due the local fire guys, but whilst we watched, hot embers blew into the house through the open windows and doors…next time maybe we should close the windows? Later that same day the first large fire nearby broke out and the Protezione Civile brought in 2 of their Canadair air tankers. These Canadair planes flown by the government are very efficient little air tankers that the Italians use efficiently (being surrounded on three sides by seas). Americans are losing their large air tankers because they are old and being grounded. You can read more about that here.
English friend Clive captured the tankers dipping into the sea just off the Scalea beach to refill the water tanks in about 20 seconds, and was kind to share the images (You can read more about Clive and Kathryn at their nicely done website. They operate a very nice B&B in the historic sector of Scalea).
On Thursday morning, there was heavy smoke all around us and even some ash floating in the windows at 6 AM…clues that a fire must be burning nearby. I left for Scalea around 8 and saw a hand crew of 6 guys working a 5-acre fire just ¼ mile from the village. They were dressed in bright orange clothing and were chasing the grass and brush fire with swatters like they use in the southeast US. They were just pulling up to a bar near the car park when I returned from town at 10. They were able to get their morning beer nearly on time!
A larger fire between here and Papasidero actually caused most of the smoke in the valley. One of the Canadairs was back and working the fire when I returned home.
From our terrazzo, I watched him scoop water in the sea 8 km away. Once tho’, he rose then started to circle. I thought there was trouble – looking down I saw he had spotted a new little fire on the edge of the town of Marcellina. He dove and nailed that fire perfectly and went for more seawater! After its final trip to the fire Thursday, the air tanker lined up on the paved runway at Scalea, then he buzzed the airport at 200 feet, wagged his wings to the guys below, pulled up and headed to the airport at Lamezia Terme.
I have seen Sikorsky sky crane helicopters in Italy, but none rigged for fire fighting. I guess the Canadairs are so fast and efficient that heavy helicopters don’t make sense especially for Italy that has ocean water within reach of most areas. Here’s a skycrane working a fire in Oregon in 2006. They suck water into a tank thru the dangling snorkel and bomb fires with water like the air tankers.
After all this excitement, I think I’ll join our neighborhood cat for a little sun therapy…at least until I see the next tanker cross the sky!