Around 750 firefighters and water-dropping aircraft were battling the blaze in difficult conditions, with high temperatures and strong winds.
“Thousands of people have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, but there are no victims,” a fire service spokeswoman, Delphine Vienco, said, adding that the blaze was “still very fierce”.
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France is just the latest of a number of Mediterranean countries to be hit by extreme weather and wildfires, which climate scientists warn will become increasingly common because of man-made global warming.
Les 700 #pompiers engagés sur le terrain poursuivent leurs actions de lutte sur tous les fronts au cœur de la nuit.
Le feu a parcouru 22 km depuis son départ. Un #engagement sans faille pour préserver des vies et protéger des habitations ainsi que nos forêts.@Prefet83 @DLain83 pic.twitter.com/w1FXeMPewp
— Sapeurs Pompiers VAR (@SDIS83) August 17, 2021
Large fires have already ravaged parts of Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Algeria and Morocco.
The blaze broke out Monday at a motorway stop about 100 kilometres northeast of the port city of Toulon. By Tuesday morning, it had already covered more than 3,500 hectares of forest and scrubland, according to the fire department.
“This is the area covered but it is too early to estimate the area burned,” the spokeswoman said.
Evacuations have mainly taken place around Saint-Tropez and the villages of Le Mole and Grimaud, Vienco said.
“The fire is very huge and its spreading at a speed of four kilometres an hour, it’s a very difficult battle. During the night we managed to prevent the fire from reaching Garde-Freinet,” a village about 20 kilometres from Saint-Tropez, he added.
🔥🔴 17/08/2021 à 00h45 #DIRECT : En plein cœur du violent incendie dans les #Maures(83) avec nos soldats du feu qui font un travail exceptionnel ! Grand courage à vous, on pense à vous ! Un grand merci à Anthony Stabile pour ce partage. #Var #Incendie #Meteo83 pic.twitter.com/XyMO56bah9
— Météo Côte d'Azur ☀️ (@MeteoCotedAzur) August 16, 2021
— Agnès 🥀 (@annevache) August 16, 2021
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is due to travel to the areas later Tuesday.
The Var prefecture confirmed that several campsites were evacuated and asked people to avoid congesting the roads around the Gulf of Saint-Tropez so that the emergency services can access the area.
Those evacuated were housed in municipal buildings in the region.
Hot and arid southeast France, which regularly experiences summer wildfires, had been relatively spared so far this year.
According to the Prometheus database on forest fires in the Mediterranean region, the total area burned in France in the four regions hit was 2,336 hectares for 2021, against 7,698 for the whole of 2020.
Last year, a fire ravaged 1,000 hectares in a popular tourist region west of Marseille. At least 2,700 people, including many tourists, had to be evacuated, some by sea.