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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019
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'It's a disaster area. There's nothing left': Wildfires rage over south-east of France

Residents of Corsica and Saint-Tropez have described “apocalyptic” scenes from the wildfires.

France Wildfires Firefighters in Corsica Source: Raphael Poletti AP/PA Images

AT LEAST 10,000 people were evacuated overnight after a new wildfire broke out in southern France, which was already battling massive blazes that have consumed swathes of forest, authorities said this morning.

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

“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 increases in July and August as holidaymakers head to the beach, though the area is experiencing an exceptionally hot, dry summer that has made it especially vulnerable to fires.

Yesterday, over 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water bombers had already been mobilised to extinguish the flames, which have left swathes 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 yesterday had devoured around 40 square kilometres of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous interior and on the island of Corsica.

With strong winds and dry brush creating a dangerous mix, the government asked its European Union partners to send two extra fire-fighting planes – a request immediately fulfilled by Italy, according to the EU.

France Wildfires Firefighter takes a break near the site of a wildfire in Corsica Source: Raphael Poletti AP/PA Images

But one union official denounced what he said was a lack of spare parts preventing all the aircraft required from being put into action.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced yesterday that France would be adding six more firefighting planes to its fleet during a visit to Corsica.

‘Apocalyptic’ scenes

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 yesterday.

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.

Francois Fouchier, of the local coastal conservation group, told AFP that local wildlife, such as the Hermann’s tortoises, would be victims of the fires. “We are going to find burnt shells,” he said.

France Wildfires A plane drops water over a forest fire near La Croix-Valmer Source: Claude Paris AP/PA Images

Around 80 kilometres inland, 300 hectares of pines and oaks went up in smoke near the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

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

The French island of 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.

In the end, disaster was averted after the wind died down, but the blaze engulfed 1,800 hectares of forest and burned several vehicles.

Further east, in Carros, north of Nice, a house, three vehicles and a warehouse went up in flames, according to regional authorities.

Speaking to France Info radio, Mayor Charles Scibetta described waking up to a “lunar landscape” and said the inhabitants had a lucky escape.

Riviera becoming ‘bushier’

France Wildfires Firefighter douses tree with water near village of Ortale in Corsica. Source: Raphael Poletti AP/PA Images

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

Thomas Curt, a director at the Irsea institute for research into the environment and agriculture, said a fall-off in farming in southeast France since the 1970s had made it more prone to fires.

“Farmland is contracting and the forest is naturally expanding, making the area bushier,” he said.

A proliferation in the numbers of homes, roads and power lines near forests also increased the fire hazard, he added.

In mid-July, a blaze believed to have been ignited by a cigarette butt tossed out of a car ripped through 800 hectares of land near Aix-en-Provence.

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

© – AFP, 2017

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