100 hectares of forest destroyed in inferno at tourist spot in southwest France
Over 100 hectares of a pine forest in the southwestern France have been destroyed, in a massive blaze that was eventually brought under control in the early hours of Friday morning. No casualties were reported, but at least three homes were completely destroyed, and dozens of people have been evacuated.
The wildfire in the Chiberta pine forest, near the coastal community of Anglet in southwestern France (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), began on Thursday morning, brought on by soaring temperatures and drought-like conditions and continued into the evening.
The cause of the blaze – fought by over a hundred fire fighters and Canadair water bombers - has yet to be established.
While the worst of the fire has now been brought under control, "there are still risks that it could start up again", warned the police chief of Bayonne, Hervé Jonathan.
Anglet mayor Claude Olive described to AFP how over thirty locals had been evacuated, and although no lives had been lost, but he was shocked at the level of destruction.
"What I’m seeing is woeful. The forest, a treasure in environmental and heritage terms, has gone up in smoke," he told France Info.
"It’s sinister, there’s nothing left. In particular, we’ve lost the Environment Education centre where we recently held workshops for kids," he said.
In total, some eleven houses were damaged, three of them completely destroyed and locals described the fear they felt as the wind picked up, fanning the flames.
"At the end of my street the flames were approaching the homes and they were very strong -- we all jumped in our cars," a resident of the coastal town near tourism hotspot Biarritz told AFP.
"I had the flames 10 metres (33 feet) away!" said another resident who lives on the edge of the forest, adding that "usually there is never strong wind here".
34 people were taken to a temporary shelter in a nearby gymnasium, and 16 people were treated for smoke inhalation at local hospitals.
The southwest of France experienced particularly hot weather on Thursday, with the nearby town of Saint-Jean-de-Luz setting its new temperature record of 41.9 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit).
France’s weather bureau has issued warnings of heatwave temperatures up to 41°C, followed by thunderstorms in many areas across the country for Friday and Saturday.
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