France orders evacuations as wildfire nears Saint-Tropez
Nearly 100 homes destroyed as 900 firefighters battle blaze
Grimaud — French firefighters hampered by strong winds were battling to contain a fast-spreading wildfire in the hills behind the coastal town of Saint-Tropez on Tuesday as campsites packed with holidaymakers were evacuated.
Aircraft carrying water and 900 firefighters were tackling the blaze, which began late on Monday at a highway service area, according to local media.
Waves of extreme heat have hit the Mediterranean region in recent weeks, with wildfires from Spain and Greece to Turkey raising uncomfortable questions over global warming and countries’ preparedness.
The fires in France, which hit several villages in the southern Var region, spread quickly overnight as high winds propelled the blaze across 5,000ha of land.
“We were completely surrounded by the flames,” said Stephane Gady, mayor of the village of La Mole, which is nestled near pine forests close to the French Riviera. Gady and his team were almost stranded after being caught by the blaze on the village outskirts on Monday night, he said.
No lives were lost in the area, according to Gady and local authorities in the Var, but about 100 homes were destroyed. A campsite in Grimaud was razed to the ground. Charred mobile homes were scattered across the site.
At least six other campsites in the Var region were evacuated, the Var prefect’s office said.
Another local mayor, Philippe Leonelli, said his seaside town of Cavalaire was spared, and was sheltering about 2,000 people from nearby campsites in gyms and events halls.
“This time the fire spread in three hours through an area that would normally be covered in 48. It’s crazy, that’s how quickly it all went,” Leonelli said, adding several colleagues had lost their homes.
Cavalaire is normally home to about 10,000 people, but the population swells to 90,000 during the summer months. The villages of La Croix Valmer and Grimaud were also hit.
Alexandre Jouassard, an emergency services spokesperson, said some locals were being told to stay indoors with wet sheets under the door instead of fleeing, to prevent chaos on the roads. Authorities warned that more fires could break out in surrounding areas.
Authorities urged people not to drive around the area, known for its beaches and coastal towns.
Elsewhere in the region, two wildfires, also fanned by strong winds, raged out of control near Athens on Monday, forcing the evacuation of villages.
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