The day has been punctuated by an intermittent mechanical rumbling as helicopters pass backwards and forwards over the house. Great scoops of water dangle beneath them like the thoraxes of those hornets found round here, called mule-killers for the potency of their sting. The helicopters, and the odd seaplane equipped with a tank for water and known in Italy as a Canadair, are trying to douse the first real fire to get this near to the town since last year.
The rough grass and other scrub vegetation on this side – the southern side – of Passignano, the hill behind Fondi, has been burning off slowly but steadily since this morning and now there’s a large patch of grey-black stubble the shape of Africa, extending from the peak of the hill, over 400 metres above sea level, to the highest house on the slope, a derelict stone building I’ve often coveted, maybe a third up from the foot. The fire’s not out yet; as the light begins to fade the scurries of flame around its edges are more evident than before and almost beautiful. It’s almost certainly someone’s handiwork.
The land isn’t cultivated and is too steep for building, so the culprits are unlikely to be farmers or developers. The only people who stand to benefit are the part time forestry workers who wait to be called, each summer, to deal with fires of this kind. It’s a closed circuit, and as long as no one dies and no famous beauty spots are touched no one seems to care that much, although dogs don’t like the low, rather throaty noise of the helicopters. Maybe, to them, it sounds like a growl.