Locals join firefighters battling French blazes
PARISLocal residents joined firefighters in southern France on July 26 to battle blazes that have forced over 10,000 people to flee and left chunks of coastal forest a blackened mess.
In some places, locals used spades, rakes and even tree branches in a desperate bid to beat back the flames until the firefighters arrived.
Forest fires were also raging in parts of central Portugal, where several villages were evacuated and roads closed down.
In France, emergency workers, who have been fighting the blazes for three days, were also battling infernos in the mountainous hinterland, and on the island of Corsica.
Thousands of tourists fled to the safety of public shelters after a fire broke out overnight in the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the Cote d’Azur, and swept towards the area’s campsites.
“We were slapping it with branches to prevent it from spreading, but it came back here,” said Bastien Guyomard, a resident of Toulon who is visiting Bormes-les-Mimosas.
“The firemen are spread out everywhere. There’s fire everywhere.”
The head of the rescue operation in Bormes-les-Mimosas, Serge La Vialle, told AFP that more than 550 firefighters backed by five water bomber aircraft had not yet managed to contain the flames.
Later Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the situation in Bormes-les-Mimosas remained “intense” but “is improving.”
Speaking after overflying the area along with Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, the premier said there would be an enquiry into the cause of the fires, which some have blamed on arsonists.
Some evacuees ended up spending the night on the beach, but many families took shelter in a local gymnasium and public hall where volunteers served up drinks and breakfast.
Amelie, a German tourist from a family of nine, said she had woken to the sound of sirens. “We all gathered on the beach. The mountain was ablaze and the sky was red,” she told AFP.
Starting from July 24, firefighters crisscrossed the southeast trying to extinguish infernos in a tinder-dry region, which has been buffeted by strong winds.
About 100 kilometers northwest of Bormes-les-Mimosas, a pine forest in Peynier caught fire on July 26 consuming 1,000 hectares but not endangering homes.
In a tweet on July 26, President Emmanuel Macron expressed his admiration and support “for those fighting relentlessly against the fires ravaging our territories.”
In all, over 6,000 firefighters, troops and civil security officials backed by 19 water bombers have been deployed.
At least 12 firefighters have been injured and 15 police officers affected by smoke inhalation so far, officials said.