Wildfires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes
By Stephane Mahe and Layli Foroudi
HOSTENS, France (Reuters) -Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 residents, some of whom had clambered onto rooftops as the flames got closer.
Black-and-orange skies, darkened by the smoke billowing from forests and lit up by the flames, were seen across the area as the fires continued to burn out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft.
Fires, which have razed about 6,200 hectares (15,320), have now crossed in the neighbouring Landes region.
France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.
“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some belongings,” the Gironde municipality of Belin-Beliet said on Facebook before evacuating parts of the town.
In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier been door to door telling residents to leave as the fire advanced. Camille Delay fled with her partner and her son, grabbing their two cats, chickens and house insurance papers.
“Everyone in the village climbed onto their rooftops to see what was happening – within ten minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by telephone.
Firefighters said more evacuations were likely. Even so, some Hostens residents were reluctant to abandon their homes.
“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we cannot leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed behind with her father.
“I’m getting worried because the fire is in a plot of land behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”
Numerous small roads and a highway were closed.
More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System https://effis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/apps/effis.statistics/estimates shows.
“The fire is creating its own wind,” senior local official Martin Guespereau told reporters, adding that efforts to fight it were made more difficult by how unpredictable it was.
Sweden and Italy are among countries preparing to send help to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.
He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible – nine out of 10 fires are either voluntarily or involuntarily caused by people, he said.
The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures.
In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters backed by eight aircraft have battled a blaze in the mountainous Covilha area some 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.
Spain and Greece have also had to tackle multiple fires over the past few weeks.
The Gironde was hit by major wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Authorities believe the latest inferno was a result of the previous fires still smouldering in the area’s peaty soil.
Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been scorched by another fire.
(Reporting by Stephane Mahe in Hostens and Layli Foroudi in Paris; Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Writing by Richard Lough, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Jane Merriman, Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich)