No casualties were reported, but around 100 people were evacuated from the area and 16 were taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
Around 165 hectares of Chiberta forest burned down in the blaze that lasted around eight hours before being finally brought under control on Friday morning (July 31).
Chiberta forest is situated in the centre of Anglet, a commune with a population of around 40,000 in the Basque region close to the Spanish border.
The maire of Anglet described the devastation as “grim”, saying that there was nothing left.
“What I’m looking at right now could make me cry. The forest, environmentally rich and holding an invaluable heritage, has gone up in smoke,” Claud Olive told France Info.
Izadia Ecology Park, a natural park popular with tourists located inside the forest, was completely destroyed in the blaze.
The origin of the fire is still unknown. An investigation has been opened by the public prosecutor’s office in nearby Bayonne for “destruction by fire.”
On Friday, the newly appointed minister for Biodiversity Bérangère Abba visited the scene. There she promised that the government would provide financial support for reconstruction, but did not specify how much that would be, reported radio station France Bleu.
In southern France, small forest fires are quite common, with around 2,500 reported each year in the period between 1994 to 2016. In total, they have burned around 12,000 hectares, according to Climate Change Post, a publication covering climate change and adaptation.
However, large fires where over 100 hectares are burned, such as the one in Anglet, are rare, representing only 1% of the total number of fires in France.
Read more about fires in France:
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