Person found dead in French wildfire near Saint-Tropez

Woman reported missing as 1,200 firefighters try to contain blaze

About 7,000 people have been evacuated, 27 injured including five firefighters. Photograph: Securite Civile/EPA

About 7,000 people have been evacuated, 27 injured including five firefighters. Photograph: Securite Civile/EPA

 

One person has died during France’s biggest wildfire of the summer, which is raging in the countryside behind Saint-Tropez, local authorities have confirmed.

The body was found in a house in the village of Grimaud after the fire passed through. A 32-year-old woman has also been reported missing, a local prosecutor Patrice Camberou told the television channel France 3.

France has deployed 1,200 firefighters and a dozen aircraft to try to contain the blaze, which broke out on Monday night near a motorway rest stop and has torn across 5,000 hectares in the southeastern region of Var. The fire lost pace on Tuesday night but is still not contained, firefighters told Agence France-Presse.

About 7,000 people, including tourists holidaying on the French Riviera, have been evacuated and spent the night in welcome centres around the region.

Twenty-seven people have been injured, including five firefighters, the local prefecture said, with most suffering smoke inhalation.

French president Emmanuel Macron visited the region on Tuesday, before the death was announced, saying: “The worst has been avoided.”

France had until now been spared the wildfire devastation that has consumed other parts of the Mediterranean this summer, including in Greece, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Algeria.

‘Apocalyptic’

Delphine Oberti, a resident of Cavalaire-sur-Mer, fled her home with her two children to shelter at her parents’ house as embers began to fall. Her husband stayed behind to defend their house. “It’s apocalyptic,” she said. “The sky was red, we couldn’t breathe, we couldn’t see our neighbours’ houses.

“My children are disturbed, my six-year-old son talks of nothing but the fires.”

Yet Ms Oberti, who works in Grimaud, says they were lucky – their home was not lost and they have been able to return.

The fire has burned through more than 50 per cent of Plaine des Maures natural reserve, a biodiversity hotspot in the region, said the park conservator, Marie-Claude Serra. With the flames still not contained, she has yet to survey the full extent of the damage to the park, home to 240 protected species including reptiles, bats and the endangered Hermann’s tortoise.

“Amid this human catastrophe, the worry is that we’re living through an ecological catastrophe as well,” Ms Serra said.

Recent weather conditions have left the reserve extremely vulnerable to the threat of wildfire. “There’s very little moisture in the plants. This combined with the high heat and the wind produced the explosive cocktail that we are now experiencing – devastating fires that move very, very quickly,” Ms Serra said.

“We need to stop asking whether climate change is here or not. It’s here – what are we going to do about it?”

The 2021 blaze is moving much faster than previous catastrophic fires in the region, firefighters told BFM TV. In 2003 four people died and more than 70,000 hectares burned in the south of France.

Firefighters are also battling blazes in the Aude region in the southwest, and in Beaumes-de-Venise, Provence. – Guardian