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Thousands of campers evacuated in southern France due to forest fires

Local authorities in southern France evacuated thousands of campers from a hugely popular camping area after high winds increased the risk from forest fires raging nearby.

Thousands of campers evacuated in southern France due to forest fires
Canadair firefighting plane drops water over a fire. Illustration photo: AFP
Over 2,500 campers were evacuated from campsites in Argeles-sur-Mer, outside the city of Perpignan close to the Spanish border, just as the holiday season gets underway, the local authorities said. 
   
No-one was hurt and those evacuated are being looked after in three sites including two gymnasiums.
 
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It is not clear what caused the fire that erupted earlier Monday. Two Canadair water bombers and some 30 vehicles are being used to put the fire out. But gusts of some 70 kilometres an hour were complicating the task.
   
Argeles-sur-Mer boasts that it is the “capital of camping” in the summer and sees its population swell from 10,000 to 150,000 people.
 
   
An employee of the Le Dauphin campsite, which can host 1,000 people, said all its clients had been evacuated to zones designated by the fire brigade and there had been no material damage.
 
Google maps: Argeles-sur-Mer
 
Around 90 km/h further north, in the towns of Fabrezan and Ferrals in the Aude department, about 300 hectares of forest and scrub went up in smoke in a fire that started at 9 am on Monday, according to firefighters.
 
The fire has been contained but “remains active” and hundreds of firefighters are still at the scene. According to the authorities, no one has been injured and no homes are under threat. 
 
With increased global warming and urbanisation, the world as a whole is having to confront natural disasters with unforeseen behavioural patterns and consequences.
 
Experts say the French public are dangerously unprepared for the advent of such crises, including the rise in wildfires, which have scorched large parts of forested France in recent years.
 
A 2013 survey by French polling firm Ifop found that 78 percent of French people were unaware of what to do in the event of France's national alert system being triggered, and 63 percent didn't know the risks that their geographical location expose them to.
 
“We have created this myth of a welfare state that can simply stop catastrophes from happening,” French historian Emmanuel Garnier told Le Parisien in 2016, adding that the French suffer from “selective amnesia” when it comes to the deadliness and devastation of previous natural disasters.

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WILDFIRES

More than 200 evacuated after wildfire rages in southern France

A forest fire has ravaged 800 hectares of vegetation near the southern French city of Marseille, forcing the evacuation of over 200 people, officials said.

More than 200 evacuated after wildfire rages in southern France
All photos: AFP

There were no casualties thus far from the blaze that broke out west of Marseille on Tuesday, as 1,200 firefighters and water bombing planes were deployed to fight the flames.

Some 225 people, mostly tourists and campers, were evacuated by boat to a nearby fishing village and then taken by bus to makeshift shelters in the town of Martigues.

“We are braced for a difficult fight throughout the night,” said a spokesman for the firefighting service in the Bouches du Rhone department.

The fire broke out in the afternoon, sending out plumes of black smoke. It crossed eight kilometres in two hours, fanned by strong winds, the firefighting service said.

Seven water-dumping planes and a number of helicopters and other aircraft were deployed to back up 1,200 firefighters, officials said.

“We were in Martigues for shopping but now we cannot enter our home in La Couronne. All the roads have been cut off and the fire's burning everywhere,” said Mylene Greffeuille.

“We're very worried because my father is old and he is La Couronne,” near the fire, she said.

Part of a highway from Marseille to Martigues has been closed.

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