Wildfire forces dozens to evacuate French surfing hotspot

31 July 2020 - 11:16 By AFP
Soaring temperatures that reached nearly 42 degrees Celsius fanned the flames that burned 165 hectares in total..
Soaring temperatures that reached nearly 42 degrees Celsius fanned the flames that burned 165 hectares in total..
Image: possohh / 123RF Stock Photo

A dramatic forest fire in the middle of a French coastal resort was contained early Friday after destroying nearly a dozen homes and forcing around 100 people to evacuate overnight, officials said.

The blaze erupted late Thursday in the Chiberta forest park at Anglet in southwest France, whose beaches just north of Biarritz draw surfers from around the world.

Soaring temperatures that reached nearly 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) fanned the flames that burned 165 hectares (400 acres) in total.

"The fire is under control, things have improved since last night though there are still two or three hot spots, so there's still a risk it could flare up again," Anglet's mayor, Claude Olive, told AFP.

The local prefecture said 11 homes were destroyed and five more rendered uninhabitable, and 16 people were treated for smoke inhalation, including one firefighter and several police officers.

Acrid smoke enveloped the city as around 130 firefighters battled the blaze, whose cause remains unknown, Olive said.

Residents described an inferno that spread quickly through the closely packed pine trees, which like much of France's Basque Country had seen extremely dry conditions this summer.

"At the end of my street the flames were approaching the homes and they were very strong -- we all jumped in our cars," one local told AFP.

A young woman evacuated from her boyfriend's apartment said everything appeared fine at 8 pm.

"Then at 8.30 pm we were told 'Everyone come out! The tide has turned'," she recalled in tears.

"I had the flames 10 metres (33 feet) away!" said another resident, adding that "usually there is never stong wind here."

The blaze was the latest of several that erupted in southern and central France this week, kicking off the annual fire season which officials warn could be worsened by the drought and dry heat.

Last year, some 15,000 acres went up in flames across France, "and now the entire country is regularly affected," Gregory Allione of the FNSPF firefighters' association said in early July.

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