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‘Severe’ risk of more wild fires in southern France

Despite French firefighters managing to contain two huge forest fires in southern France on Monday, the risk of more blazes remains "very severe" across the region, authorities say.

'Severe' risk of more wild fires in southern France
Fires in southern France have turned hundreds of hectares to ash. Photo: AFP
Firefighters warned that the fire risk on Tuesday will be “very severe” in the département of Var, southern France, where 10,000 holidaymakers were forced to flee on Monday due to an approaching forest fire.  
 

One witness, British man Darren West, said there was “panic and anxiety” as four-metre flames caused caravans in the park to burn – but added that it was back “to business as usual” at the Pin de la Lègue.
 
“There are lots of fireman around as a precaution but there's not much damage to public areas,” he told The Local on Tuesday morning.   
 
He added that there only the far corner of the site was damaged by the fire, adding that he felt it was a lucky miss. 

 
Authorities said that 300 firefighters and 90 vehicles were mobilized, adding that 19 hectares of land and 40 mobile homes were burned to the ground. 
 
 
They announced early on Monday evening that the fires had been contained and that the public were no longer at risk. 
 
The holidaymakers at the three evacuated campsites in the Var were allowed to return on Monday evening once firefighters gave the all clear.
 
Another fire, which began on Friday to the west of Bordeaux, saw the homes of over 1,000 people evacuated. 
 
An estimated 600 hectares were torched (around the size of 600 rugby fields), but officials also announced that the fire had finally been contained by Monday night. 
 
Police took to Twitter late on Monday to say that they had arrested two people suspected of causing the blaze.
 
 
While it was these two fires that caused the most damage and saw the most media attention, they were just two of the forest blazes to break out southern France on Monday.
 
 
 
Bandol, Bauduen, and Cadiere d'Azur, which are all also in the Var départment in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, each saw fires that burned a few hectares of land, prompting a both firetrucks and water bombers to be mobilized.
 
An estimated 15 hectares were burnt in several smaller fires on the island of Corsica, off France's south-west coast. 
 
Emergency crews have been taking no chances with the forest fires, and their preventative measures have ensured that no serious injuries have occurred.
 
President Francois Hollande, who visited Var on Monday, said France had to remain vigilant as it was “inadvertence, negligence, and stupidity” that were most often the cause of such fires.

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WILDFIRES

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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