Hundreds flee homes as bush fires rage in southern France

France has mobilised 1,500 firefighters to tackle wildfires in countryside north of Marseille that have gutted buildings and forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes.

Hundreds flee homes as bush fires rage in southern France
Photo: AFP

Key info:

  • Some 3,300 hectares of bush burned north of Marseille
  • Fires are “under control” but winds may spark new blazes
  • Three people left seriously injured
  • 1,500 firefighters drafted in to tackles fires
  • Around 25 homes destroyed by the flames
  • Strong winds expected throughout Thursday

Authorities in the south of France say wildfires which raged on the outskirts of Marseille throughout Wednesday night have been brought under control, but fear they may reignite due to strong winds.

Whipped up by strong winds, the blaze took hold around 3:30pm on Wednesday (1330 GMT) and has spread over 3,300 hectares (5,600 acres) of scrubland, grass and some wooded areas, according to firefighters.

“We haven't seen a situation like this for a very long time,” the fire service said, first calling the wildfires “out of control” but later describing more favourable conditions in the night.

Homes were destroyed in the town of Vitrolles, some 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Marseille, with more than 1,000 people forced to seek shelter in local sports centres.

Photo: Google Maps

By Thursday morning residents were allowed to return if they wished by some 25 families had lost their homes to the blaze. Authorities warned that the fires may start up again due to the high winds that were forecast.

Dramatic images showed a helicopter battling to douse a blazing hillside with water just metres from a motorway close to Vitrolles, while one person was seriously injured in nearby Rognac.

IN PICTURES: Wildfires ravage 3,300 hectares in southern France

The blaze — which comes after low rainfall in winter and spring left southeast France extremely dry — sent a huge pall of smoke into the sky over the port city of Marseille.

“The fire seems to be less intense than before but is not yet under control,” Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said in a tweet.

“The situation has been complicated by the weather, with a strong wind and lack of rain for several weeks,” said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who had travelled to the firefighters' base in Aix-en-Provence.

“The goal of our forces is to completely control the fire so that it does not reach the towns, especially Marseille,” he added.

Further west in Herault, four firefighters were injured battling another blaze when their vehicle was surrounded by the flames.

Hundreds of extra firefighters have been drafted in from elsewhere in France to tackle the blaze.

Road and air transport were badly affected by the fire on Wednesday evening, with two motorways closed and some flights cancelled at Marseille airport.

The fires are mostly to the north of Marseille, but also broke out in Herault (point 5 above) to the west. Photo: GoogleMaps

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