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Wolves to blame for wildfires, says Artigues mayor

The mayor of Artigues in the Var, one of the worst-affected areas in the recent fires to hit the south of France, has said wolves are partially to blame for the disaster.

Gabriel Magne claimed that growing numbers of wolf attacks on livestock had caused farmers to let their pastures go, with the land then turning to shrubland. Coupled with the high heat and extreme dryness of the past few months, this land had then been prone to catching fire.

Although wolves nearly became extinct in France in the 1930s, the population is said to have dramatically increased since the 1990s, especially in the Alps and south, due to animals crossing the Italy-France border and remaining in France.

Figures show that nearly 9,000 sheep were killed by just a few hundred wolves last year. The problem has angered local residents and farmers, who are barred from killing many of the wolves due to conservation laws.

“There are more and more wolves,” Magne said, in a statement on the disaster.

“A lot of sheep farmers have given up. This year the forest was not maintained, brush was not cleared and the dry vegetation is conducive to fires that start and spread more quickly than before.”

A local farmer, speaking to department newspaper Var Matin, added that farmers used to be paid for clearing the shrubland, but that most had now stopped doing this because of the danger posed by wolves.  

Although the fires - which are now said to be under control - were largely deemed to be caused by natural ‘tinder box’ conditions, some were alleged to have been started deliberately, including one caused by a man who has now been charged with arson.

Over 12 000 people were asked to evacuate the area at the height of the blazes, but there were no deaths or serious injuries, save a number of firefighters who were taken to hospital after battling the flames.

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