France: 10,000 evacuated after new wildfire on Mediterranean coast

Latest blaze comes a day after country asks Europe for help to tackle flames, which had already devoured about 4,000 hectares of land

At least 10,000 people have been forced to evacuate after a new wildfire broke out in southern France, which was already battling massive blazes that have consumed swaths of forest, authorities have said.

The latest fire came a day after France asked for help from the rest of Europe to tackle the flames already raging in the tinder-dry south, including near the popular resort of Saint-Tropez.

The evacuations, at least 10,000, followed the progression of the fire. Its an area that doubles or triples its population in summer, said a fire service official on Wednesday of the blaze near Bormes-les-Mimosas on the Mediterranean coast.

The number of people on Frances Cte dAzur swells in July and August as holidaymakers head to the beach, though the area is experiencing an exceptionally hot, dry summer that has made it especially vulnerable to fires.

On Tuesday, more than 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water-bombers had already been mobilised to extinguish the flames, which have left swaths of charred earth in their wake. At least 12 firefighters have been injured and 15 police officers affected by smoke inhalation since the fires broke out on Monday, according to the authorities.

The blazes on Tuesday had devoured about 4,000 hectares (15 square miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous interior and on the island of Corsica.

With strong winds and dry brush creating a dangerous mix, the government asked its European Union partners to send two extra firefighting planes a request immediately fulfilled by Italy, according to the EU. But one union official denounced what he said was a lack of spare parts preventing all the aircraft required from being put into action.

Gerard Collomb, interior minister, announced on Tuesday that France would be adding six more firefighting planes to its fleet, during a visit to Corsica.

A fire in La Croix-Valmer near Saint-Tropez, a resort frequented by the rich and famous, had been contained, said local fire chief, Philippe Gambe de Vergnes, on Tuesday.

The fire devastated landscape in Biguglia, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica. Photograph: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP/Getty Images

The blaze had already consumed 400 hectares of coastal forest in an area dotted with homes, he said. More than 200 people had to be moved from the area.

La Croix-Valmers deputy mayor, Rene Carandante, described a desolate landscape of blackened headlands fringed by charred umbrella pines, where green forest had once framed the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Its a disaster area. Theres nothing left, he said.

Franois Fouchier, of the local coastal conservation group, said local wildlife, such as the Hermanns tortoises, would be victims of the fires. We are going to find burnt shells, he said.

About 50 miles (80km) inland, 300 hectares of pines and oaks went up in smoke near the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. A local official accused the authorities of failing to regularly remove dry undergrowth, making the forest a fire hazard.

Corsica, situated midway between France and Italy, was also assessing the damage. A resident, whose house had at one point been in danger, spoke of apocalyptic scenes. Disaster was averted after the wind died down, but the blaze engulfed 1,800 hectares of forest and burned several vehicles.

Further east, in Carros, north of Nice, a house, three vehicles and a warehouse went up in flames, according to regional authorities. Speaking to France Info radio, Charles Scibetta, the mayor of Carros, described waking up to a lunar landscape and said the inhabitants had a lucky escape.

All of France is mobilised, the head of the fire service in south-east France, Gregory Allione, told France Info, saying extra firefighters had been drafted in from the north.

Thomas Curt, a director at the Irsea institute for research into the environment and agriculture, said a fall-off in farming in south-east France since the 1970s had made it more prone to fires. Farmland is contracting and the forest is naturally expanding, making the area bushier, he said.

A proliferation in the numbers of homes, roads and power lines near forests also increased the fire hazard, he added.

In mid-July, a blaze believed to have been ignited by a cigarette butt tossed out of a car ripped through 800 hectares of land near Aix-en-Provence.

Portugal, meanwhile, which last month suffered deadly forest fires, has been battling fresh blazes since Sunday in the centre of the country, forcing the evacuation of about 10 villages.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/26/france-wildfires-corsica-cote-d-azur-holiday

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