Wildfires in France force the evacuations of 10,000 people
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
People enjoy the beach as they look at a forest fire in La Croix-Valmer, near Saint-Tropez, France, on Tuesday.