Thousands evacuated as smouldering French wildfire reignites

High temperatures and drought in the wine-growing region of Gironde force partial closure of motorway

About 10,000 people have been evacuated to save them from wildfires in the Gironde region of south-west France after a massive blaze that destroyed more than 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of pine forest in July sparked up again and tore through woodland.

“The fire is rampant and has now spread to the Landes départment,” local authorities in the wine-growing départment said. The French government doubled the number of firefighters to 1,000 on Wednesday afternoon, supported by planes dropping water.

The fire which began in the Landiras area in July reignited late on Tuesday, amid a fierce drought and high temperatures. It quickly burned through 6,000 hectares of woodland overnight and on Wednesday morning the fire service said the blaze continued to “progress quickly”.

Martin Guespereau, an official for the Gironde region, announced the closure of a major stretch of motorway between Bordeaux and Bayonne as the fire headed towards it and smoke caused visibility problems.

“We’re facing a day of very high risk,” he said. The hot weather conditions and record-breaking drought in the area had contributed, he said. July’s inferno had never totally extinguished, but had continued to smoulder in the area’s peaty soil.

Flames engulf trees near Hostens
Flames engulf trees near Hostens. Photograph: Facebook/Reuters

High afternoon temperatures on Tuesday reignited the fire driven by hot winds, local authorities said.

About 3,800 people were evacuated from homes in the areas of Belin-Béliet, Saint-Magne and Hostens. Many described seeing towering black plumes of smoke approaching. Guespereau said it was very hard for evacuated villagers who had already been forced to leave their homes when the fire first raged a month ago.

No one had been injured in the area that draws tourists in summer but 16 houses were destroyed near the village of Belin-Béliet.

“Everyone in the village climbed on to their rooftops to see what was happening — within 10 minutes a little twist of smoke became enormous,” said Camille Delay, 30, after being evacuated from Hostens. As a wall of flames drew rapidly closer, Delay, her son and husband fled on the orders of emergency services. The couple grabbed their two cats, chickens and house insurance documents before leaving, she said.

The Landiras fire that ignited in July was the largest of several this year in south-west France, which has been affected by record drought and a series of heatwaves.

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The Gironde was hit in July by two wildfires that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and led to the evacuation of almost 40,000 people.

France is battling with drought and heatwaves that have led to multiple wildfires over the past two months.

Other parts of France had wildfires this week, including in the southern areas of Lozère and Aveyron. In the Maine-et-Loire départment in western France more than 1,200 hectares were also scorched.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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