France wildfire: Thousands evacuated as blaze rages near Rivieraon August 17, 2021 at 5:36 pm

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Firefighters clear campsites in the Var region as some 5,000 hectares are destroyed by fire.

A firefighter extinguishes a fire that broke out in Cogolin in the Var region of southern France

image sourceReuters

Thousands of people, including tourists in campsites, have been moved to safety as firefighters tackle a wildfire close to the French Riviera.

Many were given only minutes to leave as hundreds of firefighters were deployed in the Var region to the west of Saint-Tropez.

Fire officials say the blaze broke out on Monday and has consumed some 6,000 hectares (14,820 acres).

Twenty people suffered smoke inhalation and six firefighters were hurt.

BBC TV presenter Geeta Guru-Murthy described fleeing on foot as flames approached on both sides of the road.

The fire ignited during an intense heatwave, with forecasters expecting temperatures of up to 35C on Tuesday. President Emmanuel Macron, who was on holiday in the area, visited firefighters who were trying to bring the fires under control.

Southern France is the latest area in Europe to be ravaged by wildfires this summer as temperatures soar to record levels around the Mediterranean.

Scientists say heatwaves are becoming more likely and more extreme because of climate change driven by human-induced carbon emissions.

Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal are among the countries that have been grappling with wildfires that have claimed lives and destroyed homes.

The blaze in southern France started near the village of Gonfaron, about 50km (30 miles) west of of Saint-Tropez.

By Tuesday morning, it had swept across more than 5,000 hectares of forest and scrubland, the local fire department said.

Firefighting aircraft dumped water to help douse the flames. Var’s local government said 900 firefighters and 120 police had been deployed.

A Canadair aircraft drops water on a major wildfire that broke out in the Var region of southern France

image sourceReuters

Most of the evacuations took place around the villages of La Môle and Grimaud.

Seven campsites were cleared of tourists, a local official told BFMTV, and some were destroyed by the fire as the flames – fanned by strong winds – spread rapidly.

Guru-Murthy described how she and her family had tried to escape with their car in Cogolin, just to the west of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, but the flames became too intense.

“We tried to turn around and the car went into a ditch, so we had to run a mile in the only direction we could go to, with huge fires on both sides of the road,” she said.

Tourists and residents in those areas have been sheltering in town halls, collages and gyms. The owner of a local restaurant and equestrian centre in Grimaud, Gino Colanesi, said his horses had been saved but everything had been razed to the ground.

Map: A map showing where the wildfire broke out in southern France.
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Meanwhile, in southern Portugal, hundreds of firefighters were struggling to control a blaze that prompted the evacuation of around 60 people in the Algarve region.

The fires comes a week a major United Nations report warned of more extreme weather events because of global warming.

Elsewhere in Europe, flash floods have hit both Austria, northern Italy and Germany.

A woman died and a second person was missing after a surge of water struck a wooden bridge over the Höllental gorge in Bavaria, in south-east Germany. The bridge collapsed late on Monday but the woman’s body was not found until Tuesday morning.

Austrian emergency services rescued dozens of people trapped in cars and buildings after a storm triggered flash floods and mudslides in the Pongau and Pinzgau areas near Salzburg. A bus was destroyed by the flooding.

Only a few people were on the bus when it was caught up in flooding at Dienten

image sourceÖsterreichische Wasserrettung

Similar rescue operations were necessary in parts of northern Italy, where flood water swept away cars and uprooted trees.

Some of the worst flooding was in the village of Sonico in Lombardy where the river Oglio burst its banks. In South Tyrol, near the border with Austria, dozens of people had to be helped to safety while others were told to stay in their homes.

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