Forest fires rage in France, thousands evacuated from homes

HOSTENS, France, Aug 10 (Reuters) – Wildfires tore through the Gironde region of southwestern France on Wednesday, destroying homes and forcing the evacuation of 10,000 residents, some of whom had climbed on rooftops as the flames got closer.

Black and orange skies, darkened by smoke billowing from the forests and lit by flames, were seen across the region as the fires continued to spiral out of control despite the efforts of firefighters backed up by water bombers.

The fires, which have razed around 6,200 hectares (15,320), have now crossed the neighboring Landes region.

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France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heat waves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are burning across the country, including at least eight major ones.

“Prepare your papers, the animals you can take with you, some personal effects”, indicated on Facebook the Gironde commune of Belin-Beliet before evacuating part of the city.

In the nearby village of Hostens, police had earlier gone door to door telling residents to leave as the fire progressed. Camille Delay flees with her companion and her son, seizing their two cats, the chickens and the home insurance papers.

“Everyone in the village went up to their roofs to see what was happening – in ten minutes a little whirlwind of smoke became huge,” the 30-year-old told Reuters by phone.

Firefighters said further evacuations were likely. Despite everything, some residents of Hostens were reluctant to leave their homes.

“It’s complicated to go with the dogs and we can’t leave them here,” said Allisson Horan, 18, who stayed with her father.

“I’m worried because the fire is in a field behind ours and the wind is starting to change direction.”

Many small roads and a highway were closed.

HEAT WAVES

More than 57,200 hectares have burned so far in France this year, nearly six times the annual average for 2006-2021, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System.

“Fire creates its own wind,” senior local official Martin Guespereau told reporters, adding that efforts to fight it were made more difficult by its unpredictability.

Sweden and Italy are among the countries preparing to send aid to France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

He repeated calls for everyone to be responsible – nine out of 10 fires are caused intentionally or unintentionally by people, he said.

The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have erupted across Europe this summer, sparked by heatwaves that have ignited the continent and brought record temperatures.

In Portugal, nearly 1,200 firefighters supported by eight planes battled a blaze in the mountainous region of Covilha about 280 km (174 miles) northeast of Lisbon that has burned more than 3,000 hectares of forest since Saturday.

Spain and Greece have also had to deal with multiple fires in recent weeks.

The Gironde was affected by major forest fires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced nearly 40,000 people from their homes.

Authorities believe the latest blaze was the result of previous fires still smoldering in the area’s peaty soil.

Fires were also raging in the southern departments of Lozère and Aveyron. In the Maine et Loire department in western France, more than 1,200 hectares have been ravaged by another fire.

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Report by Stéphane Mahé in Hostens and Layli Foroudi in Paris; Additional reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Written by Richard Lough, Ingrid Melander; Editing by Jane Merriman, Alexandra Hudson and Mark Heinrich

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