Wildfires force evacuation of 12,000 in French Riviera towns


Associated Press

BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS, France

Backed by planes dropping water and fire retardant, more than 1,000 firefighters battled wildfires Wednesday that billowed smoke into the sky over France’s southern Cote d’Azur coast and forced the evacuation of 12,000 people.

Large swaths of Mediterranean forest have been left bare and blackened after three days of fires. About 250 trailer homes, a hangar, an atelier and several vehicles were burned in the blazes but no one so far has been injured, according to the prefect of the Var region.

The residents and tourists were evacuated early Wednesday after a ferocious fire whipped by strong Mistral winds spread from La Londe-Les-Maures to around the picturesque hilltop town of Bormes-Les-Mimosas. About 60 people were evacuated by boat from nearby Cap Benat.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe traveled to Bormes on Wednesday night to fly over the devastated region and meet with firefighters and evacuees staying in gyms and other public spaces. Dozens spent Tuesday night on the nearby La Lavandou beach.

Further south of the French mainland, flames ate through 4,950 acres of forest on the northern end of the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, in what was the largest blaze in France.

Tourist Francoise Roparse, who was visiting the south of France, was among the evacuees awakened in the middle of the night who found shelter in a sailing club near Bormes.

“First, it was a bit the panic,” Roparse said. “We tried to gather all important things ... Obviously, we forgot a lot.”

The local government provided food for those forced from homes, some 2,500 sandwiches, fruit and drinks, community center director Nathalie Franche said.

Regional governments were especially challenged because their economies depend on tourism. The fires hit at the height of the summer season.

Fires were also blazing across parts of bone-dry Portugal and Italy.

As thick black smoke billowed above the crests of hills, Col. Eric Martin of the Var firefighting unit told BFM-TV that French crews were trying to contain the flames that had run through 3,210 acres around Bormes. Four planes and a firefighting aircraft dropped water and retardants on the blazes.

The airport in Toulon, a city 18 miles from La Londe, was briefly closed Wednesday, as well the Fort de Bregancon, which sits on a rock off the coast of Bormes.

The wildfires began raging along France’s Mediterranean coast Monday, forcing smaller, scattered evacuations as flames reached a corner of Saint-Tropez. Since Tuesday, French firefighters had conducted about 100 operations.

Further east, another 400 firefighters were battling a blaze in Artigues that burned up to 4,200 acres of forest.

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