The Foreign Legion is in trouble. Or at least one of its warrant officers is. A training session he organised Wednesday led to a forest fire just outside the French Mediterranean port of Marseilles. The fire raged almost 24 hours, destroying 1,300 hectares of brush wood and causing hundreds to either flee their homes or be evacuated before it was brought under control Thursday morning by firefighters.
The fire was started accidentally when the 43-year old warrant officer from the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion ordered his six men to use tracers - a practice forbidden in south-east France from May 1 to November 1 precisely because of the danger of fire. But the soldier, who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, told police that he was unaware of contravening orders as nobody had warned him of the danger of fire in this region.
The officer has been temporarily suspended. Colonel Benoît Royal, spokesman for the army, said “this was a serious professional mistake in complete violation of the rules.” He added that the Ist Regiment of Aubagne, the Foreign Legion's base, was holding a training session using the standard FAMAS gun on the Carpiagne training range.