The hikes in the heart of the volcano, prohibited from 2003 in case of eruption, are still not allowed. Yet the authorities are considering excursions in small numbers and with guides.

A family picnic at the foot of a crater spewing lava shreds ; a selfie at the meeting point between the molten rock and the ocean ... These surreal scenes, Reunion and tourists have lived for years at the discretion of the eruptions of the Piton de la Fournaise. Until summer 2003. The 27 august this year, a student falls into a hole and dies, burnt. L'Enclos, this immense basin where most of the eruptions take place, had just been reopened by the prefecture to allow the curious to admire the burning land. Since, the authorities have blocked access from any eruption. "The Fournaise was confiscated from us ! », not took off the Reunion. "It is the soul of our island », ignites a passionate. Pierre, cheerful teacher of economics and management, even remember, child, having "Played Captain Haddock in a crater" !

At the foot of the last eruptions

Facing the forbidden, the curious are reduced to watch the eruptions from two natural viewpoints overlooking the Yard, several hundred meters from the lava : Piton de Bert, South, or share Piton, North. Both tours run along a cliff with a beautiful view of the "caldera", huge cauldron 9 km over 13, born of a collapse. other, more reckless, descend misoukdans the Yard. Christophe, who has since moved to Chambery, remembers having braved the ban with a friend to admire an eruption that arose not far from the Château Fort, an old crater with jagged edges. "Respecting the set, it was to deprive me of an exceptional spectacle that I will never have the chance to watch again ". To get to the scene, the duo buzzing around 3am. Firstly easily, on smooth basalt slabs and chubby, then out of breath on black slag slopes, ochres, sparkling. Approaching the crater from which sprang a 50m high geyser, the accomplices went through a chaos of lava "gratonné" : unstable pieces of magma, so sharp they bloody hands if you hold it. Philippe and Christophe returned "amazed" but understand the prefectural ban : too difficult for the general public.

Nothing to do with the previous eruption, in September 2016. The eruptive fissure had opened only three quarters running time of the access portal. It was enough to follow an old path perfectly marked to approach it. A simple stroll ... yet prohibited, which did not prevent Estelle from going there. With two friends, a few meters from the eruption of noise storm, she enjoyed "the beauty of the planet raging". The Red River, on which floated huge dark blocks, progressed screeching. Gilbert, also a tourist off-the-law, approached the cast to deposit a strange package : bread dough which he raised in the heat of magma !

Hyper-dangerous

For Colonel Herve Berthouin, Chief of Staff area and Civil Protection, this behavior unconscious justifies precautionary measures. "If we let the eruptions free of access, there would be more accidents ", Mr. prevents security Prefecture. According to him, "This is not a nice volcano, it can be hyper-dangerous ". What do the experts ? Philippe Smith, deputy director of the Volcanological Observatory of Piton de la Fournaise, do not underestimate the risks ; but judge Reunion volcano, effusif, "Pretty nice", unlike the explosive volcanoes, the most common on the planet.

The proof ? In October 2019, the last eruption approached the road, in the South Island. This time, the government could not prevent the public from approaching, access possibilities are too numerous. Therefore, thousands of islanders could rub casting reddish gratons, sometimes in less than one meter. "Its our volkan", claimed a young. "It's like Mordor" from the Lord of the Rings, marveled a tourist, "But less dangerous". Effectively, the fabulous spectacle caused no victim and onlookers in stored memories eyeful.

Framed hikes

In front of this situation, and under the pressure, the prefecture has softened its position and must change Orsec plan volcano. It is expected that tourists, over 16 years, will descend into the Yard in case of eruption, provided they are guided by a mountain guide. Each visitor will be given a gas mask, gloves and knee pads ; Firstly, only 80 people will be together in the Yard. Which is very little : during the eruptions, tens of thousands of curious people rush to the different lookouts ... Guides must have undergone specific training, which just ended, for accreditation ; a digital VHF radio and a GPS tracker will track their position and warn them in the event of an alert. Turpin Jerome followed the module and created the Volcano Security Association which will ensure the commercial management of outputs. "We didn't want to privatize the volcano, the islanders would not accept ", promises professional. While the normal rate of such a benefit would amount to € 70, guides want to charge 10 €. Remains to find grants to partners ... and to convince the new prefect. The precedent had not resisted the opening of the umbrella, declaring : "Secure support is realistic", but "the device cannot be fully validated as is" ...

We can walk on lava cooled ...

Until the next eruption, and while the previous smoke again, it is always possible to go down into the Enclosure and walk on the lava ... once the flows are frozen. We follow Didier Cologni, the pirate-like with his bandana on his head and his ear rings. The mountain guide, however, defends himself as a filibuster of the volcano : "Mon credo, this is the first security, Then come the emotion and pleasure ". We take the staircase which runs abruptly into the caldera, to flank rampart. The crater Formica Léo, bellows orange slag, we welcome, sharp on the black magma bed which seems to undulate under our feet. We walk on lava fields "roped", wrinkled and wrinkled like the skin of an elephant, before climbing to the Dolomieu, the summit crater. The Eiffel Tower would be almost there ! Better not get too close to the edge of this impressive hole, crossed by threatening faults : in 2007, the crater floor collapsed on 300 meters deep.

Going down, we bypass the flow of 2010, bristling with gratons three meters high. A trifle given the "casting of the century", in 2007, thick over 60 meters, that crossed the road and jumped in the ocean ! Lava tunnels dig the ground of more or less wide trenches. Much lower, on the coast, some will travel, caving method. Short break inside the Chapel Rosemont, a "plutonic" lava cave, blood color, which has since disappeared, buried under a new casting. The guide spots a tiny spider that survives in this mineral den, hidden in the shade of a pigeon-like magma mound. The sun alternates with fog and rain, accentuant friendly linearity of the "caldera". Magic, even without eruption !

Text Laurent DECLOITRE
Photos Pierre MARCHAL