Hundreds evacuated after French Alps ski resort hit by ‘arson’

Firefighters on Tuesday night evacuated more than 400 people from a busy ski resort in the French Alps following the outbreak of three fires believed to have been started on purpose.

Hundreds evacuated after French Alps ski resort hit by 'arson'
Photo: Les Arcs 1800

Approximately 440 skiers at Savoie’s Les Arcs 1800 resort in the French Alps were rushed out of their beds in the early hours of Wednesday morning as a result of the triple blaze. 

The first fire is believed to have to have started at around midnight in the Pierre Menta residence’s waste disposal room. Half an hour later, another blaze began in the nearby La Croissette building.

Firefighters were quick to evacuate affected guests, who at that point numbered only 40. 

At around 3.30am, another bigger fire was lit in the garbage chute of the Belles Challes building, which instigated the mass evacuation of another 400 people.

All affected guests were rehoused in a nearby congress hall for the night.

Up to 40 firefighters had to be deployed to put out the flames and sources close to the investigation say the fires weren’t completely under control by Wednesday mid-morning.

“It’s likely it was arson,” Michel Giraudy, mayor of nearby commune of Bourg-Saint-Maurice, told Le Parisien.

The fires and ensuing evacuation took place during half-term school holidays in France, a period of high occupancy in the popular ski resort in the Tarentaise Valley, in France's Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. 

The news comes just weeks after another fire at the nearby ski resort of Courchevel killed two and left 25 people injured. Investigators also believe this fire was the result of arson. 



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Dad’s ‘miracle escape’ after being buried by avalanche in French Alps

A man out walking with his family in the French Alps has made a miraculous escape from an avalanche after spending more than two and a half hours trapped under snow, rescuers said.

Dad's 'miracle escape' after being buried by avalanche in French Alps
Ski lifts in France are closed, but visitors and locals are free to enjoy other outdoor sports. Photo: AFP

The 50-year-old father was snowshoeing near the high-altitude Val d'Isere ski resort with his wife and two children on Thursday without anti-avalanche safety equipment.

“Thank to the mobilisation of nearly 100 people… the man was found alive after two hours and 40 minutes of searching,” the police for the local Savoie département announced on Twitter.

Because of the depth of the snow, rescue dogs were unable to detect a trace, but the man was eventually dug out by a specialised mountain police team which used a Wolfhound device to locate his mobile phone under the ice.

“I think it's a miracle,” Alexandre Grether from the PGHM rescue team told the France 3 local news channel, adding that the man was found 2.5 metres (eight feet) below the surface.

The chances of survival after more than 20 minutes in an avalanche are usually slim.

“He was protected by a tree, that's what prevented him from being crushed by all the ice that slid down. The snow had surrounded him, but he had a pocket of air,” he explained.

The victim is expected to make a full recovery after suffering a fracture to his hip.

The avalanche risk on Thursday was at its maximum – five on a scale of five – and rescuers urge people to always check the snow conditions before venturing out.

READ ALSO 'Whole season a write-off' – what next for France's ski resorts?

Ski lifts in the Alps, which have seen some of their heaviest snowfalls in years in January, are currently closed because of restrictions imposed by the government to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Visitors and locals are free to enjoy hiking, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing, but occupancy levels in hotels and chalets are way down and business owners and seasonal staff face serious hardships.

The government has promised an economic support package for the sector.