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Firefighters and waterbomber planes have been battling forest fires swallowing large swaths of the French Riviera, the holidaymaker paradise, since Monday, causing the evacuation of over 12,000 people in the early hours of Wednesday.
A tinderbox combination of high temperatures, lack of rainfall and the Mistral, an unrelenting northwesterly wind, put Provence on an unprecedented level of risk of forest fires. In the area of La Londe-les-Maures and Bormes-les-Mimosas, not far from the upscale destination of St-Tropez, thousands of people had to leave their homes, holiday accommodation and campsites, overwhelming six emergency welcome centers that were made available. Some vacationers had to resort to spending the night on the beach. Robert Harris, a British writer fleeing his house in Cap Bénat with his family in the middle of the night, said to The New York Times, ‘We simply grabbed whatever we could. It looked as though the whole of the Cap Bénat was on fire.’
Plumes of smoke go on for kilometers over the thousands of acres affected by the forest fires. Regional authorities said in a statement late yesterday that firefighting efforts had been combating over 80 fires in the past 48 hours across the territory. Overall, 7000 acres of vegetation have burned and more than 6000 firefighters, military and civil security personnel have been deployed.
This morning, the volunteer civil response team was able to accommodate over 1000 of those people who had spend the night at the beach, by making food, coffee and showers available.
The Ministry of the Interior announced on Twitter today that the risk of fires starting again remains high, making it impossible to reach the evacuated zones yet. In solidarity with those affected, the city of Hyères suspended until further notice the fireworks display that was scheduled for Friday, July 28. Authorities urge people to remain vigilant and call 118 immediately if they notice a fire starting. The Var Prefecture sent out a reminder that all forested land remains closed to public and vehicle access on Thursday.