VATICAN CITY — Last time I saw black smoke billowing over St. Peter’s Square, it was the April consistory of 2005. But this, obviously, was very different:
When I stepped out of the Vatican’s press hall at about 2:45 to head back to the office, several journalists came rushing back in saying “There’s a fire! Go outside and look!”
And sure enough dark, menacing puffs of smoke were towering behind the Vatican Museums and then, as the wind shifted, the basilica. The breeze was so strong, it was impossible to tell if the fire was coming from somewhere on the Vatican’s 108 acres or from Rome’s residential area behind it.
A few minutes later, the vice director of the Vatican press office, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, called to tell everyone the fire was not on Vatican property.
Italian news outlets later reported a fire had broken out in a wooded city park in the Valle Aurelia section of Rome, on the hill behind Vatican City. Three engines and a helicopter from Rome’s fire department were on the scene at 2:10 keeping the blaze from spreading, said some reports.
Reports said the flames stayed low, engulfing just the underbrush, and that it was easily under control. In fact, by 3 p.m. the thick black clouds had turned to a hazy yellow. Strong winds and a relatively dry season have made parts of Italy susceptible to wildfires, even the urban landscape of Rome.