Briton describes 'terrifying' wildfire in France

Steven Brady, originally from Wigan, said it was 'unbelievable no one was killed'

Powered by automated translation

A fire on Monday night in the Pyrenees was described by a British man living in the south of France as the biggest he had ever seen.

And Steven Brady, who is originally from Wigan but now lives in the Roussillon region, said it was unbelievable that no lives were lost.

Mr Brady said he was terrified when he saw the blaze speed up as it came over the Pyrenees towards his home.

More than 3,000 tourists were evacuated from holiday homes and campsites as the wildfire erupted between Saint-Andre near the Spanish border and the resort of Argeles-sur-Mer along the Mediterranean coast.

The fire reportedly burnt more than 500 hectares of land but was brought under control by firefighters on Tuesday morning and there have been no reports of casualties.

"The [fire] last night was the biggest one I've seen here and it was very scary because instead of having strong winds from the east, it came from the south – just a hot, dry blast," Mr Brady, 57, told reporterssaid.

"It accelerated when it came over the Pyrenees, hit the flat Roussillon plain heading straight for us and we're all terrified because it was going to incinerate the village and all the campsites around it."

Mr Brady has lived in the French region for six years.

He captured footage of the smoke billowing about 6km from his home near Alberes hills, which look over to Sorede, Saint-Andre and Argeles-sur-Mer.

"Normally fire rises up and climbs the hill … this was different," Mr Brady said.

More than 3,000 flee as wildfires rage in France

More than 3,000 flee as wildfires rage in France

"It started halfway down the hill in Saint-Andre, right near us. Thankfully for us, but not for the people there, it headed towards the sea, which is very rare.

"It was terrifying. Most of the residents of this village all went out to climb the hill last night and got the cameras out. They've probably never seen that phenomenon.

"It came on like a mini hurricane. The flames were whipping up … it was horrific.

"Your average fires happen quite a lot around here, but that was something that could have been an absolute catastrophe."

Mr Brady has praised firefighters for swiftly and effectively containing the blaze.

"They have done a brilliant job," he said.

"I think they prepare well for it but those particularly climatic conditions last night, there's not a lot you can do. You can prepare and train for it but I haven't seen that before.

"The winds, because we're surrounded by mountains in the Pyrenees, can suddenly change. That takes a special kind of bravery to tackle that."

Senior regional official Rodrigue Furcy said “extremely hot weather, drought and strong winds” – typical of the region’s harsh summer – led to the fire spreading rapidly and making the evacuation of tourists essential.

On Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on X, formerly Twitter, that the fire was under control.

There were no reported injuries.

Mr Darmanin said that while most of those evacuated had returned to their accommodation, about 800 campers would need to be relocated because of the damage to their campsites.

Mr Furcy said while the fire had been contained, the region, especially the worst-affected areas, remained under close watch.

He said another 350 to 400 tourists remained displaced.

Authorities are taking measures to ensure the safety of the region's visitors and residents, while closely monitoring the situation for any further risks, said officials.

Europe's summer of wildfires

Europe has been struggling with an intense heatwave, causing a rise in wildfires and prompting concerns over the impact of climate change.

Spain issued three red weather alerts as temperatures soared, with forecasters predicting highs of up to 44ºC in regions including Catalonia, Aragon and the Balearic Islands.

Rome, meanwhile, recorded a temperature of 41.8ºC – breaking last year's record.

Where are the latest wildfires in Europe and the Middle East?

Where are the latest wildfires in Europe and the Middle East?

Portugal has struggled with intense heat and wildfires, with more than 1,000 firefighters battling a blaze in the country's centre that has ravaged 7,000 hectares.

Cyprus sought international aid to quell a vast forest fire north of Limassol, receiving assistance from Greece, Jordan and Israel.

Spain and France have managed to contain a wildfire near their border, while in southern Spain, Andalusia has also been affected.

Compounding these crises are forecasts of stronger winds and record-breaking temperatures that exacerbate wildfire risks.

Temperature surges have been attributed to anticyclone Charon, which originated over North Africa.

The World Meteorological Organisation warned that the heatwave may intensify, increasing potential health hazards.

Most experts say the increased frequency of heatwaves is due to human-induced climate change.

The EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service highlighted that 2021 and 2022 were Europe's hottest recorded summers.

It has predicted that 2023 may break the record again.

Updated: August 16, 2023, 10:25 AM