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Dozens of homes burn on outskirts of French city

One of France's worst fires for three years raged on the eastern outskirts of Marseille late Wednesday burning dozens of homes but claiming no victims, rescue services said.

world Updated: Jul 23, 2009 11:09 IST

One of France's worst fires for three years raged on the eastern outskirts of Marseille late Wednesday burning dozens of homes but claiming no victims, rescue services said.

The wildfire caused by military practice shelling hit the eastern Trois-Ponts suburb of the southern city forcing the evacuation of scores of residents.

"There are a few dozen houses burnt in the Trois-Ponts district but there are no victims," fire brigade spokesman Samuel Champon told AFP. "There are more homes threatened than vehicles mobilised."

The fire moved down a hill outside the city and threatened the Trois-Ponts district where residents sprayed water on the outside of their houses before they moved out. People in neighbouring La Barasse also left, although local authorities said no evacuation order had been given.

About 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of brush was razed by the blaze, Champon said. "We are in a defensive mission for the moment," he went on, pointing to "problems with the lie of the land" and difficulties in accessing water points.

A thick black smoke swirled around the district and many residents angrily criticised the French army which had staged artillery training at its Carpiagne camp just before the fire started.

Regional prefect Michel Sappin confirmed that the blaze had been started by the shelling, lashing out at the "imbecilic" action that had led to "an annoying and serious" situation in a zone close to a city and saying he was "exasperated."

In such weather conditions, with high winds, the army should refrain from carrying out shelling practice, he said.

Director of public security Pascal Lalle said 135 policemen were on hand in the affected zones to watch over the houses, prevent looting and let in the firemen.