Provence on maximum alert over risk of forest fires

Provence on maximum alert over risk of forest fires
Photo: AFP
A dangerous combination of a lack of rain, the Mistral winds and grounded water planes has put Provence on maximum alert for forest fires.

Authorities in the Bouches-du-Rhone département of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur are on high alert fearing that potentially devastating forest fires could break out.

The combination of a dry scrub land after a lack of rain and the famous Mistral wind means firefighters in the area have undertaken exceptional preventative measures.

Some 120 firefighters from outside areas have been drafted into Provence and are ready to jump into action if fires break out.

The Bouches-du-Rhone's firefighting department issued a statement saying the current “level of danger is rarely seen” in the area.

“The operational context of the coming days is exceptional,” the statement added, with strong winds due to blow through the area from Thursday and throughout the weekend.

But the usual response to forest fires has been hampered by the fact that water planes run by Canadair, which are normally dispatched to fight fires, have been grounded after one of the aircraft's landing gear broke on Monday in Ajaccio, Corsica.

All the other 11 planes France normally has at its disposal are grounded until technical checks have been carried out.

Three water-bombing helicopters have been made available as a stop-gap and in the worst case scenario France can call on Spain and Italy to send their own fleet of Canadair waterplanes.

Although the south of France saw a wet winter and spring, the summer weeks have been particularly dry.

Firefighters have already fought a blaze near Avignon on August 1st and hundreds of hectares of land has been burned this summer.

In recent weeks firefighters in the nearby Var département have been fighting fires that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of land.

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