Two dead as French firefighters’ battle to contain massive wildfire enters third day

Two dead as French firefighters' battle to contain massive wildfire enters third day
Firefighters battling a massive wildfire in the Var department. Photo Nicolas Tucat / AFP
Two people have died as 1,200 firefighters continue to battle a forest fire near the glamorous resort of Saint-Tropez in southern France, officials said on Wednesday.

The huge blaze in the Maures massif “had not spread” overnight but fire service spokesman Franck Graciano warned AFP, “that does not mean it is under control.”

Canadair firefighting planes and waterbombing helicopters have been in the air since 7am, trying to bring the flames under control.

Graciano added: “We will carry out the same basic work as yesterday by dropping water in critical places. We have a little lull thanks to the wind which has dropped but it will build again in the morning.”

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A Canadair firefighting aircraft dropping tonnes of water on a forest fire in southern France

Local authorities say two deaths have been reported in the area of the fire – with investigations ongoing into the cause of death. Appeals have also been released for a 32-year-old woman who has been missing since entering the affected area.

Fire chiefs said that five firefighters have been injured, with none of the injuries reported to be serious, while 19 members of the public have received medical treatment, mostly for smoke inhalation.

The blaze has already scorched some 5,000 hectares in a region known for its forests, vineyards and fauna since it broke out in the Plaine des Maures nature reserve on Monday evening. It is believed to have started near a motorway stop 30 kilometres northwest of the glamorous Riviera resort of Saint-Tropez.

Beachgoers watch as a Canadair firefighting plane descends to the sea in the bay of Saint-Tropez to collect water to fight a nearby forest fire

The body of a man in his fifties was found in a property after the fire had passed through Grimaud. An investigation has been opened into the cause of death. No information has yet been released about the second death.

Smoke clouds the sky and flames rise above trees as a wildfire rages in southeast France

Facebook has activated its “SafetyCheck” feature for the fires in the Var, allowing people to tell their friends that they are safe.

Dozens of police officers are in the area to ensure visitors stay away. Access to all massifs – usually popular with tourists – is currently forbidden. The prefecture has again urged people to avoid the area, and “not to stay near the fire to take photos or videos”.

READ ALSO What to do if you see a wildfire in France

Some 7,000 people spent a second night in emergency rescue centres in Bormes-les-Mimosas, Cavalaire, Cogolin, La Croix-Valmer, Grimaud, Le Lavandou and Sainte-Maxime, having been evacuated from their houses or holiday homes on Tuesday. No new evacuations were ordered overnight, officials said on Wednesday morning.

READ ALSO IN PICTURES: Thousands evacuated in southern France as ‘fierce’ wildfire spreads

“Evacuees should absolutely not return to their homes or vacation spots,” the prefecture warned.

The silhouette of a firefighter using a hose to put out flames from a forest fire in southern France against a setting sun

Work has started restoring power lines ravaged by the flames over the past couple of days. Charred power lines lay on the ground, and many trees were burnt around their trunks but their branches were intact, suggesting the fire had ripped through at speed.

The Mediterranean basin has long faced seasonal wildfires linked to its dry and hot summers, and climate scientists warn they will become increasingly common because of man-made global warming. But the speed at which this latest blaze has spread has surprised even locals who are used to the annual risk of fire.

“We’ve never seen it spread with such speed, it was three or four times the usual,” Thomas Dombry, mayor of La Garde-Freinet village, told AFP.

Authorities were counting the cost to the environment even. “Half of the Plain des Maures nature reserve has been devastated,” Concha Agero, deputy director of the French Office of Biodiversity, said.

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