One person was found dead in the southern Var region on Wednesday as authorities struggled to contain France’s worst summer forest fire, which has forced thousands of residents and tourists to flee.
The forest fire, which covered 7,000 hectares, injured 22 people, 19 of them from poisoning, according to a local official. Five firefighters also suffered minor injuries.
The fire has burned a region known for its forests, vineyards and wildlife since it broke out in the Plaine des Maures nature reserve on Monday night.
Some 1,200 firefighters were deployed, using high-pressure hoses and water bombing planes and helicopters to control the flames.
High temperatures and strong winds forced local authorities to evacuate some 7,000 people from their homes and camps, the Var prefecture said on Tuesday, many of them to the safety of municipal buildings and schools.
Among them were 1,300 people staying in a camp in the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the Saint-Tropez coast.
Others fled the town of La-Garde-Freinet, but there were no further evacuations overnight, the fire service said Wednesday.
“We started smelling the smoke around 7:00 pm, then we saw the flames on the hill,” said Cindy Thinesse, who fled a camp near Cavalaire Monday night.
“We doubted, but when we saw that, we decided to leave,” he told AFP.
‘The battle is ongoing’
“The next few hours will be absolutely decisive” for the firefighting effort, said President Emmanuel Macron, who has been taking his summer vacation on the Mediterranean coast, during a visit to first responders Tuesday night.
While Macron added that “the battle is ongoing and the fire has not yet been contained, stabilized,” he said the bravery of the firefighters has managed to “avoid the worst” without casualties so far.
Large fires have already devastated parts of Turkey, Bulgaria, Albania, North Macedonia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco this year.
The Mediterranean basin has long faced seasonal wildfires related to its hot, dry climate in the summer, but climate scientists warn that they will be increasingly common due to man-made global warming.
The French fire is believed to have started near a motorway stop about 30 kilometers (18 miles) northwest of Saint-Tropez.
“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.
Authorities were calculating the cost to the environment even as the fires were still raging Tuesday.
“Half of the Plain des Maures nature reserve has been devastated,” Concha Agero, deputy director of the French Office for Biodiversity, said Tuesday.
Charred power lines lay in the ground Tuesday, and many trees were burned around their trunks, but their branches were intact, suggesting the fire had ripped apart at high speed.
But after a quiet night Tuesday, technicians Wednesday began trying to restore phone and power lines.