Thousands evacuated as forest fires rage in southern France
August 5, 2020 06:19 PM
Almost 3,000 people were evacuated Tuesday night, some by boat, from homes and camping sites near Marseille in southern France as forest fires tore through some 1,000 hectares of vegetation.
About 1,800 firefighters battled blazes fanned by strong winds overnight and 14 sustained light injuries, officials said. No civilians were hurt. The occupants of an elderly people's home and other locals, as well as tourists from France and abroad, had to be evacuated as flames devoured the Blue Coast -- an pine tree-lined area between Marseille and Martigues on the Mediterranean shore.
Many homes and eight campsites near Martigues, where the fire started, and Sausset-les-Pins were evacuated "as a preventative measure", the fire service said. Some people had to be rescued by sea from camping sites and beaches.
In hot, dry summer conditions, the fires broke out late Tuesday afternoon, and spread quickly fanned by strong winds -- up to eight kilometres (five miles) in two hours, firefighters said.
"It was panic, we had to go down to the beach and we could see the flames coming closer," said Maryse Escuder, 83, who was on vacation with her family and great-grandchildren at the La Source campsite.
They spent the night in a gymnasium in Martigues. "I first smelled the smoke and then saw the flames," said Marc Lorenz, a German on holiday with his wife and three children, who also slept on camp beds in the hastily-erected emergency reception centre.
Others were taken in by locals whose homes were not in danger. The blazes were mostly under control by Wednesday morning, said a firefighter, helped by calmer winds.
"We are waiting to see when people will be able to return, some campsites and houses have been damaged, firefighters are still in action", Benedicte Gameaux, a spokeswoman for the Martigues municipality, told AFP.
One of the fires, near the industrial port of Marseille-Fos, destroyed 130 hectares and damaged a home and several businesses.
The material damage has yet to be evaluated. Between 2015 and 2019, some 9,300 hectares of forest burnt on average each year on France's Mediterranean coast, with its hot, dry climate and highly flammable pine trees.