A probably arson fire destroyed almost 1,000 hectares in southeastern France near Aubenas on Wednesday, requiring the evacuation of some 350 people.
The fire did not cause any casualties and the firefighters, around 600 of whom were still hard at work, planned to stop its progress overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.
To midnight, only one fire was still active, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Michel Chalancon of the fire department of the Ardèche department, around the town of Lussas, near Aubenas, on which five separate fire starts had been recorded from the morning. Three other fire starts took place within a radius of 10 km.
The “criminal track” is “privileged”, the public prosecutor of Privas, the capital of the department, said on Wednesday and at least one person has been placed in police custody.
At least 350 people were evacuated from the tourist town of Vogüé and surrounding campsites, near the Ardèche gorges, but the fire did not cause any injuries or threaten homes.
Between 550 and 600 firefighters remained on the job during the night, with five Canadair and a Dash aircraft, as well as a hundred intervention vehicles and a civil security helicopter.
“ We did not stop, not stop” from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., testified Romain Charbonnier, 22, a volunteer firefighter, who stood with two colleagues not far from a burning tree in front of a charred landscape where the smell of burning grabs the nostrils.
Earlier Wednesday, a fire that burned 800 hectares of vegetation near Montpellier (south) could be fixed.
These new fires come a few days after the two “exceptional” fires which ravaged nearly 21,000 hectares of forest for twelve days in Gironde, in the south-west of the country, and led to the evacuation of some 36,000 people.< /p>
In this department, some 500 firefighters are still on site to deal with “edges and hot spots”, probably for weeks to come, said a spokesperson for the fire department.
< p> After these monster fires, the Pilat dune – the highest in Europe and a very touristic site on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean – reopened to the public on Wednesday, “in secure conditions and with guided paths”, according to the prefect of Gironde Fabienne Buccio.
If summers are dry in the south, with global warming, the intensity of these episodes of drought is likely to increase further, according to UN experts. In France, the level of drought has reached a record with 91 departments out of 96 forced to impose restrictions on the use of water.