Thou­sands flee

Wild­fires in France force the evac­u­a­tions of 10,000 peo­ple

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

MAR­SEILLE, France — At least 10,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing thou­sands of hol­i­day­mak­ers, were evac­u­ated overnight af­ter a new wild­fire broke out in south­ern France, which was al­ready bat­tling mas­sive blazes, au­thor­i­ties said on Wed­nes­day.

The new fire broke out a day af­ter France asked for Europe’s help to tackle the flames al­ready rag­ing in sev­eral spots on the tin­der-dry south, in­clud­ing near the pop­u­lar re­sort of Saint-Tropez.

Fire­fight­ers are also bat­tling blazes on the French Mediter­ranean is­land of Cor­sica and in Por­tu­gal.

About 3,000 of the evac­uees in south­east France were hol­i­day­mak­ers stay­ing in camp­grounds, some of whom ended up spend­ing the night in sleep­ing bags on the beach.

“The evac­u­a­tions, at least 10,000, fol­lowed the pro­gres­sion of the fire. It’s an area that dou­bles or triples its pop­u­la­tion in sum­mer,” said a fire ser­vice of­fi­cial of the blaze near Bormes-les-Mi­mosas on the Mediter­ranean coast.

The num­ber of peo­ple on France’s Cote d’Azur bulges in July and Au­gust as hol­i­day­mak­ers head to the beach, al­though the area is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an ex­cep­tion­ally hot and dry sum­mer that has made it es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to fires.

On Tues­day more than 4,000 fire­fight­ers and troops backed by 19 wa­ter bombers had al­ready been mo­bi­lized to ex­tin­guish the flames, which have left swaths of charred earth in their wake.

At least 12 fire­fight­ers have been in­jured and 15 po­lice of­fi­cers af­fected by smoke in­hala­tion since the fires broke out on Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor­i­ties.

The blazes on Tues­day had de­voured 4,000 hectares of land along the Mediter­ranean coast, in the moun­tain­ous in­te­rior and on Cor­sica.

Help from EU

With strong winds and dry brush cre­at­ing a dan­ger­ous mix, the gov­ern­ment asked its Euro­pean Union part­ners to send two ex­tra fire­fight­ing planes — a re­quest im­me­di­ately ful­filled by Italy.

A fire in La Croix-Valmer near Saint-Tropez, a re­sort fre­quented by the rich and fa­mous, had been con­tained, lo­cal fire chief Philippe Gambe de Vergnes said on Tues­day.

But the blaze had al­ready con­sumed 400 hectares of coastal for­est in an area dot­ted with homes, he said. More than 200 peo­ple had to be moved from the area.

La Croix-Valmer’s Deputy Mayor Rene Caran­dante de­scribed a des­o­late land­scape of black­ened head­lands fringed by charred um­brella pines, where green for­est had once framed the azure wa­ters of the Mediter­ranean.

“It’s a dis­as­ter area. There’s noth­ing left,” he said.

A lo­cal of­fi­cial ac­cused the au­thor­i­ties of fail­ing to reg­u­larly re­move dry un­der­growth, mak­ing the for­est a fire hazard.

“All of France is mo­bi­lized,” said the head of the fire ser­vice in south­east France, Colonel Gre­gory Al­lione, adding that ex­tra fire­fight­ers had been drafted in from the north.

Cor­sica, sit­u­ated mid­way be­tween France and Italy, was also assess­ing the dam­age.

A res­i­dent, whose house had at one point been in dan­ger, spoke of “apoc­a­lyp­tic” scenes.

Por­tu­gal, mean­while, which last month suf­fered deadly for­est fires, has been bat­tling fresh blazes since Sun­day in cen­ter of the coun­try, forc­ing the evac­u­a­tion of around 10 vil­lages.

The evac­u­a­tions ... fol­lowed the pro­gres­sion of the fire. It’s an area that dou­bles or triples its pop­u­la­tion in sum­mer.” A fire ser­vice of­fi­cial

VALERY HACHE / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Peo­ple en­joy the beach as they look at a for­est fire in La Croix-Valmer, near Saint-Tropez, France, on Tues­day.

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