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New wildfires hit south of France, one death reported in Var blaze

Strong winds are making it difficult to quell two fires in Aude, while in Vaucluse 130 people have been evacuated and firefighting is affecting the drinking water supply; a death and a missing person are reported in the Var

An image of a forest fire

Forest fires have hit areas of Vaucluse (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and Aude (Occitanie) as well as the department of Var. Pic: Kirsanov Valeriy Vladimirovich / Shutterstock

Update 17:48 August 18: A second burned body has now been found in a house in Grimaud, destroyed by the fire, and some 26 people have been injured in the Var fire

Several new forest fires have hit the south of France as a 7,000 hectare blaze in the backcountry near Saint-Tropez continues with one death reported there and another person missing.

More than 300 hectares of land have been burnt in the departments of Vaucluse (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) and Aude (Occitanie) in new break-outs, with 12 firefighters reported injured, one seriously. 

The hot, dry weather which has persisted in south-east France over recent weeks, paired with strong gusts of wind, is making it difficult for firefighters to control the flames. 

Vaucluse 

A forest fire which covered 210 hectares in the Vaucluse on Tuesday, August 17 has restarted overnight. 

The flames, which began at 02:00 yesterday (Tuesday August 17) morning in the village of Beaumes-de-Venise, 40km north east of Avignon, were fanned by strong winds of up to 50kph. 

This came as more than 1,000 firefighters tackled a blaze in the neighbouring Var department where a person has been found dead in a burned home in Grimaud; enquiries are ongoing to identify the victim and the circumstances of death. A 32-year-old woman from Ile-de-France has also been reported missing, her family having not heard from her since Monday evening when she called saying she was surrounded by fire. She had been staying in a gîte in the Val de Gilly area of Grimaud, which has been found burned.

Sentinel Hub, the website which makes it possible to view satellite images of the earth, reflects the extent of the damage caused by the Var forest fire. Pic: Sentinel Hub

By Tuesday evening, the 386 firefighters mobilised to tackle the Vaucluse blaze had been able to encircle and establish control over the flames. 

However, at around 03:00 this morning, a “violent” resurgence burnt a further 30 hectares around Beaumes-de-Venise’s neighbouring village of Barroux.

Firefighter reinforcements were sent in to help those already on the ground and by 6:45 today the blaze was “contained.” 

So far, six firefighting planes and helicopters have been deployed, carrying out 155 airdrops of water to dampen the area. 

As of Tuesday evening, seven firefighters had sustained minor injuries and 130 people had been evacuated by the prefecture of Vaucluse. 

More than 200 hectares of vegetation around Beaumes-de-Venise, Caromb and Saint-Hippolyte-le-Graveyron has been burnt by the fire. 

Vaucluse’s public health department has warned that huge volumes of water used during the firefighting operation will have an effect on public supply. 

Tap water may appear brown for 9,000 residents of Beaumes-de-Venise, Aubignan, Lafare, Roque-Alric, Suzette and Barroux, who will also experience low water pressure. 

These people are advised not to drink or cook with tap water until further notice, limiting use to washing and cleaning. 

Aude 

In Aude the emergency services are fighting two further fires in Bizanet near Narbonne, which have moved over 60 hectares of land. 

Although firefighters are getting the better of the flames in this area, gusts of wind reaching 70-80kph are making it difficult to predict how the fire might evolve.

While tackling the blaze, five firefighters are reported to have been injured, one seriously. 

At the same time, two fires in Peyriac-de-Mer and nearby Durban-Courbières - to the south of Narbonne - have been brought under control, although they are still burning.

Before being subdued, the Durban fire travelled over 20 hectares, prompting the mobilisation of 250 firefighters. 

As a result of these fires, the hamlets of Mont Milan and Pech Rascas have been evacuated. 

Aude’s prefecture is currently urging people to avoid the affected area. 

A new normal in Europe? 

Philosopher and Aix-Marseille university professor Joëlle Zask says this type of forest fire, which is abnormal for France, may soon become a regular occurrence here and across Europe. 

Ms Zask, speaking to FranceInfo earlier today, said climate change is bringing with it long periods of hot, dry, windy weather, which creates the perfect conditions for forest fires. 

The uniform nature of man-made tree plantations, as well as the disappearance of fire-resistant trees such as the cypress, only clears a path for the flames. 

“We must relearn ways to protect forests, to maintain them and keep them open,” Ms Zask added. “There is a forestry practice which can protect it from flames and which people have been using since the beginning of time. 

“Today, we must use this invaluable knowledge to prevent these megafires.”

Related stories 

Over 1,000 firefighters still tackling forest fire behind St Tropez

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