by Daniel Cole and Angela Charlton | The Associated Press
LA GARDE-FREINET, France – French President Emmanuel Macron said firefighters were able to “stabilize” the fire that ripped through forests near the French Riviera on Tuesday, sending thousands of people to homes, campgrounds and hotels in a picturesque area. was forced to flee. and tourists alike.
It was the latest of wildfires to spread across the Mediterranean, leaving regions of Greece, Turkey, Italy, Algeria and Spain in smoldering ruins.
Wildfires began Monday evening about 40 kilometers (24 miles) inland from the coastal resort of Saint-Tropez, at the height of France’s summer holiday season. According to the Var regional administration, the fire had spread to 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of forest by Tuesday morning, due to powerful seasonal winds coming from the Mediterranean Sea.
Some 6,000 people were evacuated from homes and a dozen campgrounds, while others were locked in a holiday center for Air France employees. Officials said at least 22 people suffered minor injuries due to smoke inhalation or the fire, and two firefighters were among the injured.
Macron, who was vacationing at a nearby coastal fort, visited the fire zone on Tuesday.
Macron praised the efforts of more than 900 firefighters and the deployment of 11 water-dumping aircraft, saying “the worst-case scenario has been avoided.”
The destroyed landscape is “absolutely terrifying in terms of biodiversity and natural heritage … but life has been protected,” he said.
Water-dumping planes and emergency helicopters swung back and forth over hills lined with chestnut, pine and oak trees on Tuesday. Images shared online by firefighters showed black spots of smoke in thickets of trees as flames slid from dry brush.
Carlo Zaglia, a spokesman for the area’s firefighters, described “a violent fire” in the lower mountain range of Maures, which “made it very difficult for firefighters to reach the trees and fight the fire.”
An evacuation told France-Bleu that as he was returning to his campsite, smoke covered his car and he barely had time to grab his daughter’s milk and basic supplies before fleeing. Another told BFM television about the escape as his hotel caught fire.
Local officials closed roads, blocked access to forests and urged caution. Officials warned that the fire risk would remain high until Wednesday due to hot, dry weather. Temperatures have reached 40 °C (104 F) in recent days.
Such extreme weather is expected to happen more frequently as the planet continues to warm. Climate scientists say there is little doubt that climate change is driving extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and hurricanes, from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.
Extreme heat and wildfires in recent weeks have also affected other Mediterranean countries, killing at least 75 people in Algeria and 16 in Turkey.
In Greece on Tuesday, hundreds of firefighters supported by water-dropping planes battled a major wildfire that forced the evacuation of a nursing home and several villages northwest of Athens. The country’s longest and worst heat wave in decades has sparked hundreds of wildfires across Greece in their month.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli firefighters worked for the third day in a row to control a wildfire that devoured a large tract of forest west of Jerusalem.
Drought and heat associated with climate change have also fueled wildfires in the western United States and Russia’s northern Siberia region this summer.
Charlton contributed from Paris.