Res­i­dents, tourists es­cape for­est fires in France

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - CLAUDE PARIS AND NADINE ACHOUI-LESAGE In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Barry Hatton, Elaine Gan­ley and Colleen Barry of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

BORMES-LES-MI­MOSAS, France — Backed by planes drop­ping wa­ter and fire re­tar­dant, more than 1,000 fire­fight­ers bat­tled wild­fires Wed­nes­day that bil­lowed smoke into the sky over France’s south­ern Cote d’Azur coast, also known as the French Riviera, and forced the evac­u­a­tion of 12,000 peo­ple.

Large ar­eas of Mediter­ranean for­est have been left bare and black­ened af­ter three days of fires. About 250 trailer homes, a hangar, an artist stu­dio and sev­eral ve­hi­cles were burned, but no one so far has been in­jured, ac­cord­ing to the pre­fect of the Var re­gion.

The res­i­dents and tourists were evac­u­ated early Wed­nes­day af­ter a fire whipped by strong mis­tral winds spread from La Londe-Les-Mau­res to around the hill­top town of Bormes-Les-Mi­mosas. About 60 peo­ple were evac­u­ated by boat from nearby Cap Be­nat.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe was trav­el­ing to Bormes on Wed­nes­day night to fly over the dev­as­tated re­gion and meet with fire­fight­ers and evac­uees stay­ing in gyms and other pub­lic spa­ces. Dozens spent Tues­day night on the nearby La La­van­dou beach.

Farther south of the French main­land, flames ate through 4,950 acres of for­est on the north­ern end of the French Mediter­ranean is­land of Cor­sica, in what was the largest blaze in France.

Fires also were blaz­ing across parts of bone-dry Por­tu­gal and Italy.

As thick black smoke bil­lowed above the crests of hills, Col. Eric Martin of the Var fire­fight­ing unit told BFM-TV that French crews were try­ing to con­tain the flames that had run through 3,210 acres around Bormes. Four planes and a fire­fight­ing air­craft dropped wa­ter and re­tar­dant on the blazes.

The air­port in Toulon, a city 18 miles from La Londe, was briefly closed Wed­nes­day, as well the Fort de Bre­gan­con, which sits on a rock off the coast of Bormes.

The wild­fires be­gan rag­ing along France’s Mediter­ranean coast Mon­day, forc­ing smaller, scat­tered evac­u­a­tions as flames reached a cor­ner of Saint-Tropez.

Since noon Tues­day, French fire­fight­ers had con­ducted about 100 op­er­a­tions.

Farther east, an­other 400 fire­fight­ers were bat­tling a blaze in Ar­tigues that burned up to 4,200 acres of for­est. In ad­di­tion, a fire that was con­tained Tues­day evening in La Croix Valmer af­ter burn­ing two homes and leav­ing one fire­fighter se­ri­ously in­jured restarted Wed­nes­day, the Var pre­fec­ture said.

Fire­fight­ers said they were ex­hausted and needed more man­power and equip­ment. Hun­dreds of re­in­force­ments were sent in from around France, but the pres­i­dent of the Provence-Alpes-Cotes d’Azur area, Re­naud Muse­lier, said on BFM-TV that “we don’t have enough means.”

France asked the Euro­pean Union for more fire­fight­ing planes and Italy pro­vided one Tues­day. Still, a pi­lot of a Canadair fire­fight­ing air­craft said there were not enough planes in the sky.

France’s Mediter­ranean coast is par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to fires, with its back-coun­try forests, of­ten dry in the sum­mer, and hot mis­tral winds blow­ing across the sea to fan the flames.

In cen­tral Por­tu­gal on Wed­nes­day, bil­low­ing smoke was mak­ing vis­i­bil­ity too poor to use wa­ter-drop­ping air­craft on the re­gion’s flaming dense pine and eu­ca­lyp­tus forests.

More than 2,300 fire­fight­ers with more than 700 ve­hi­cles were bat­tling 13 blazes, with flames driven by pow­er­ful winds.

The worst-hit ar­eas are 125 miles north­east of Lis­bon, where the fires briefly forced the evac­u­a­tion of some ham­lets and the clo­sure of a sec­tion of high­way.

Por­tu­gal’s peak fire sea­son, which usu­ally oc­curs af­ter July 1, be­gan early this year dur­ing a se­vere drought. Last month, 64 peo­ple died try­ing to flee a for­est fire in Por­tu­gal.

In Italy, where wild­fires have raged for weeks, fire­fight­ers re­sponded to 26 re­quests for wa­ter and fire-re­tar­dant air­drops on Tues­day through­out cen­tral and south­ern Italy, in­clud­ing Cal­abria, Si­cily, Sar­dinia, Lazio and Puglia.

The Coldiretti agri­cul­ture lobby said 50 mil­lion bees were de­stroyed along with their hives in fires on the slopes of Mount Ve­su­vius. Coldiretti said an­other 20 per­cent of the bee pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated to have be­come dis­ori­ented by all the smoke and died as a re­sult.

AP/CLAUDE PARIS

Sun­bathers and swim­mers leave the beach at Le La­van­dou on the French Riviera un­der an evac­u­a­tion or­der Wed­nes­day as smoke from a wild­fire bil­lows over the south­ern Cote d’Azur re­gion. Large ar­eas of Mediter­ranean for­est have been burned af­ter three days of fires that have forced the evac­u­a­tion of 12,000 peo­ple.

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