Thousands flee as France fights Saint-Tropez wildfire

State of emergency at popular holiday resort as more extreme weather hits Europe

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Thousands of people in Saint-Tropez have been moved to safety on Tuesday as a raging wildfire approached the upscale French Riviera resort.

Water-dropping aircraft and about 900 firefighters equipped with high-pressure hoses worked to repel the blaze, which began in a nature reserve on Monday evening.

They have been hampered by strong winds, as the fire spread in the hills behind the coastal town.

A campsite in Grimaud was razed, leaving the charred remains of caravans scattered about the site.

At least six other campsites in the Var region were evacuated, local officials said.

Philippe Leonelli, mayor of the town of Cavalaire, said the seaside resort had been spared but about 2,000 people from nearby campsites had taken shelter in its gyms and events halls.

“This time, the fire spread in three hours through an area that would normally be covered in 48. It’s crazy. That’s how quickly it all went,” he said.

Cavalaire’s population is normally about 10,000 people, but swells to 90,000 during the summer.

Despite the ferocity of the blaze, fire service spokeswoman Delphine Vienco told AFP there were no victims to date.

Among those moved to safety were 1,300 people staying at a campsite in the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, down the coast from Saint-Tropez.

As tourists and locals fled, officials warned them to avoid blocking roads used by the emergency services.

President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte are on holiday near by, and he announced that he would visit the area later. French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was expected to travel to the area on Tuesday.

Speed of Saint-Tropez blaze shocks locals

Southern France is the latest area in the Mediterranean basin to be hit by wildfires this summer, a seasonal phenomenon that climate scientists say will become increasingly common because of man-made global warming.

Large fires have already ravaged parts of Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, Algeria and Morocco this year.

The blaze is believed to have started near a motorway that runs through the Plaine des Maures nature reserve, about 30 kilometres north-west of Saint-Tropez.

Many trees were burnt around their trunks but their branches were intact, suggesting the fire had passed through at speed.

“We’ve never seen it spread with such speed. It was three or four times the usual,” Thomas Dombry, mayor of La-Garde-Freinet, told AFP.

The flames came close to La-Garde-Freinet during the night but spared the settlement, which was badly hit in 2003 by a catastrophic blaze in which three firefighters were killed

The local fire department said more than 3,500 hectares of forest and scrubland had burnt by Tuesday morning.

Hot and dry south-east France, which regularly experiences summer wildfires, had escaped lightly so far this year.

According to the Prometheus database on forest fires in the Mediterranean region, the total area burnt in France in the four affected regions was 2,336 hectares for 2021, against 7,698 for the whole of 2020.

Updated: August 17, 2021, 3:30 PM