Thousands evacuated in southern France as forest fire spreads

Hundreds of French firefighters battled an intense fire near the Mediterranean town of Saint-Tropez on Tuesday, and thousands of residents and tourists were forced to evacuate.

About 750 firefighters using high-pressure hoses and water-squirting planes were trying to control the flames, which began running through a nature reserve Monday night.

“Thousands of people have been evacuated as a precautionary measure, but there are no victims,” ​​fire service spokeswoman Delphine Vienco told AFP on Tuesday morning, adding that the fire “is still very fierce.”

Among those taken to safety were 1,300 people who were staying in a camp in the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the coast of dazzling Saint-Tropez.

As tourists and locals fled, officials warned them to avoid blocking roads used by emergency services.

President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are on vacation nearby, and announced that he would visit the area later.

Southern France is the most recent area around the Mediterranean basin to be hit by wildfires this summer, a seasonal phenomenon that climate scientists warn will become increasingly common due to man-made global warming.

Large fires have already devastated parts of Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Algeria and Morocco this year.

‘So much speed’

The fire is believed to have started near a highway running through the Plaine des Maures nature reserve about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northwest of Saint-Tropez.

Many trees were burned around their trunks, but their branches were intact, suggesting that the fire had ripped apart at high speed.

“We have never seen it spread so quickly, it was three or four times more than usual,” Thomas Dombry, mayor of the village of La-Garde-Freinet, told AFP.

The fire approached La-Garde-Freinet overnight, but saved the settlement, which was badly affected in 2003 by a catastrophic fire that killed three firefighters.

The local fire department said more than 3,500 hectares of forest and brush had burned Tuesday morning.

Fire season

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin will travel to the area later on Tuesday.

Hot and dry southeastern France, which regularly experiences forest fires during the summer, has been relatively spared so far this year.

According to the Prometheus database on wildfires in the Mediterranean region, the total area burned in France in the four affected regions was 2,336 hectares by 2021, compared to 7,698 for the whole of 2020.

Last year, a fire devastated 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.


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