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Thousands evacuated in latest French wildfires

The Gironde region and neighbouring Landes have again been ravaged by wildfires, with more than 10,000 people evacuated as firefighters battle the latest outbreaks in southwestern France.

August 11, 2022
By Stephane Mahe and Layli Foroudi
11 August 2022

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 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.

This photo provided by the fire brigade of the Gironde region SDIS 33 shows flames consume trees in Saint Magne, south of Bordeaux (SDIS 33 Service Audiovisuel via AP)

“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.

Flames consume trees at a forest fire in Saint Magne, south of Bordeaux. ( SDIS 33 Service Audiovisuel via AP)

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced that more firefighters have been sent to the site in an effort to contain the fire. In total, more than 1000 firefighters, nine aircraft and two helicopters have been mobilised.

“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.

A crew battles a forest fire in Saint Magne, south of Bordeaux ( SDIS 33 Service Audiovisuel via AP)

“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 shows.

Firefighters put water on a trees at a forest fire in Aubais, southern France. (SDIS 30 service audiovisuel via AP)

“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 region was hit last month by major wildfires that forced the evacuation of more than 39,000 people, including residents and tourists. Fires have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures.

France is this week in the midst of its fourth heatwave of the year as the country faces what the government warned is its worst drought on record.

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