French Crews Tame Dramatic Wildfire on Mediterranean Coast

Riviera wildfire
A firefighting plane drops fire retardant over a forest near La Londe-les-Maures on the French Riviera on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

French firefighters have tamed one of the fiercest blazes to break out during four days of wildfires in the country’s southeast Mediterranean coast that led to the evacuation of more than 12,000 people.

The fire in the seaside town of Bormes-Les-Mimosas in the southern Var region calmed Thursday because of a drop in the wind — but still marked the skyline with dramatic clouds of black smoke that were visible for miles.

“The fire is contained,” Frederic Marchi-Leccia of the Var Fire and Emergency Service told reporters Thursday of the Bormes-les-Mimosas blaze that’s forced many to sleep overnight in gyms and sailing clubs.

Despite the progress, authorities fear there will be flare-ups Thursday afternoon due to lack of moisture and higher winds. Firefighters are still battling blazes in nearby Artigues.

Still, the Var prefecture said fires in some sites in Bormes-les-Mimosas mean it is “not yet possible” for displaced residents and tourists to return to their homes and campsites. An afternoon reconnaissance flight will help authorities determine if it’s safe to start sending people home.

In the meantime, evacuees are being housed in makeshift shelters. A sailing club near Bormes-Les-Mimosas was hosting 200 people, including tourists, who were evacuated Wednesday night.

One displaced French camper, Stephanie Reiny, who slept at the sailing club, was upbeat on learning that the firefighters were making progress. “I will go straight away to the camping site for sure … I’m not scared anymore,” she said.

Some 3,000 firefighters have been deployed to contain the flames that broke out Monday in the southeast of France and on the island of Corsica. The fires so far have consumed 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of trees and other vegetation.

There have been no reported casualties.

French commentators fear the devastation in Bormes-Les Mimosas and other damaged areas will keep visitors away and disrupt the tourism on which the Riviera’s economy relies.

As helicopters and planes carrying water flew overhead, Bormes-Les Mimosas Mayor Francois Arizzi told reporters on Thursday he felt “sadness and anger.”

“Seeing heritage like this going up in flames is sad. It’s a lifetime’s effort from local people that is destroyed,” Arizzi said.

Arizzi also accused unknown “harmful” individuals of starting the fires, though they did not explain why he thinks the blazes were human-caused.

“I’m not an investigator, but we have to stop closing our eyes to the facts. We need to find the persons responsible and punish them so that they don’t do it again,” the mayor said.

“Behind all this, there are lives in danger, men who are working day and night, and they are putting their life in danger for the safety of others,” he added.

Wildfires also still burned in Portugal, where a fast-moving blaze killed 64 people last month.

Portugal’s Civil Protection Agency says firefighters have brought under control a major 5-day-old wildfire that blackened a wide area of pine and eucalyptus forest.

The blaze at Serta, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, is believed to have charred more than 25,000 hectares of woodland.

Other fires broke out Thursday, however, amid continuing hot and windy weather. The Weather Institute says more than 70 percent of Portugal is experiencing severe drought conditions.

The Civil Protection Agency reports it has deployed more than 1,100 firefighters and 23 water-dropping aircraft to 13 blazes.

At the same time, just over 2,000 firefighters are engaged in mopping-up operations and are on the lookout for re-ignitions.

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