Arsonists blamed as blazes on French Riviera force thousands to flee

In a press release, Var officials said emergency responders had stabilised a fire that ravaged 500 hectares of countryside around the town of La Croix Valmer but blazes affecting a combined 3,300 hectares near Artigues, La Londe-les-Maures and Bormes remained a threat.

Colonel Eric Martin of the Var firefighting unit said on BFM-TV that almost 600 firefighters were trying to contain the flames that have torn through 1,300 hectares (3,210 acres) of woodland in his area alone.

France's Mediterranean coast is particularly vulnerable to fires, with its massive back-country forests, often dry in the summer, and hot Mistral winds blowing across the sea to fan the flames.

In the nearby village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, 740 acres of pine and oak trees burned. A fire in the Luberon region was contained yesterday.

The fires first broke out Monday and left eight firefighters and 15 police officers injured.

Backed by planes dropping water and fire retardant, more than 1,000 firefighters battled wildfires Wednesday that billowed smoke into the sky over France's southern Cote d'Azur coast and forced the evacuation of at least 12,000 people.

Map showing wildfires in South of France
EXPRESSWildfires have ravaged the French Riviera and Corsica

Over 6,000 firefighters, troops, soldiers and civil security soldiers have been involved in the effort to tame the blazes. "We need to find the persons responsible and punish them so that they don't do it again", the mayor said.

Numerous evacuated tourists and residents had been staying in gymnasiums, a sailing club and other makeshift shelters in Bormes-Les-Mimosas, La Londe-Les-Maures and La Lavandou.

One wildfire last month in Portugal killed 64 people. The Civil Protection Agency said 24 water-dropping aircraft were in action. The worst-affected areas continued to be in the central region of the country, especially a fire around Serta, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, which was burning for a fifth day. Coldiretti said another 20 percent of the bee population is estimated to have become disoriented from the smoke of the fires and died as a result.

Wildfires also continued to burn in Portugal, where nearly 2,000 firefighters were deployed at six major blazes on Thursday.

Portugal's peak fire season, which usually starts after July 1, began early this year amid a severe drought.



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