August 17, 2021

By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Myriam Rivet

PARIS (Reuters) -French firefighters hampered by strong winds battled on Tuesday to contain a fast-spreading wildfire in the southern tourist region of Var as campsites were evacuated in the latest summer blaze around southern Europe.

Waves of extreme heat have hit much of the Mediterranean region in recent weeks, with wildfires from Spain to Turkey raising uncomfortable questions over global warming and preparedness.

French authorities urged people to stay away from the blaze, which hit the village of Gonfaron, about 50 km (30 miles) west of the Riviera town of Saint-Tropez, as well as locations closer to the coast including La Croix Valmer and Grimaud.

One campsite was burned to the ground overnight, the Var prefect’s office said, while at least six were evacuated. Alexandre Jouassard, an emergency services spokesman, said some locals were being told to stay indoors with wet sheets under the door instead of fleeing, to prevent chaos on the roads.

‘INCREDIBLE SPEED’

Planes carrying water and 900 firefighters tackled the blaze, which began late on Monday.

Some 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of land have been burnt so far, the Var prefect’s office said.

“The fire spread at an incredible speed, with unbelievable strength,” Marc-Etienne Lansade, mayor of Cogolin, a town in the area, told BFM TV, adding that some 100 homes were hit so far.

The Var fire service tweeted an image of the sky glowing bright red with flames in the early hours of Tuesday.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would visit Gonfaron and that any reinforcements needed would be sent.

Authorities urged people not to drive around the area, known for its beaches and coastal towns. They were also advised to avoid the axis between Bormes-les-Mimosas, where President Emmanuel Macron is for his summer retreat, to Saint-Tropez.

Elsewhere in the region, two wildfires, also fanned by strong winds, raged out of control near Athens on Monday, forcing the evacuation of villages.

(Reporting by Richard Lough, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Myriam Rivet and Sarah White, Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Cawthorne)