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France's evacuated residents help firefighters at crisis centre in southwest

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By Anelise Borges
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Firefighters take positions at a forest fire near Louchats, 35 kms (22 miles) from Landiras in Gironde, southwestern France, Monday, July 18, 2022.
Firefighters take positions at a forest fire near Louchats, 35 kms (22 miles) from Landiras in Gironde, southwestern France, Monday, July 18, 2022.   -   Copyright  Philippe Lopez/Pool Photo via AP

More than 30,000 residents and tourists have been evacuated from the town of Landiras and surrounding villages including Balizac, Origne, Villandraut, and Budos as forest fires engulf southwestern France.

The empty towns are now eerily quiet, with just the sirens of firefighter trucks rushing through there to give a sense of the situation's urgency.

"It’s painful but we keep telling ourselves this is our home," said Anne Courtabessis, a resident of Landiras who stayed behind as a volunteer in a coordination centre used by firefighters to eat, get medical support and rest in between incursions into the blazing parts of the forest.

"We are happy to be able to help and be present and see our town come together," Courtabessis said.

Nearly 20,000 hectares of forest have been destroyed by wildfires in southwestern France and some 2,000 firefighters have been deployed to the region.

Anelise Borges
Anne CourtabessisAnelise Borges

But authorities say the elements have been against them. They hope that as temperatures are expected to soon ease by 15 to 20 degrees Celsius, they'll be able to put out the massive flames.

"How do I feel? Well like for everyone else, it’s stressful. But I believe that we all prefer to be active rather than not be home," said Elisabeth Barbes, another resident of Landiras currently helping at the events centre turned crisis hub.

"We are happy to stay in our village," Barbes added.

Anelise Borges
Smoke in southwestern France due to forest firesAnelise Borges

Fighting fire with fire

Authorities have been adopting different methods to try and prevent the flames from spreading further.

In some areas, they have burned parts of the terrain and in others, they have had to cut trees.

"We are cutting trees to avoid the forest from burning more," said Joel du Gachard, a former firefighter and member of an association to defend forests against fires.

"It creates a defence zone to eliminate the 'fuel' and to allow for (firefighters) to penetrate further," he explained.

"If the winds turn, we could have more fires in different directions," Gachard said.

"For now the situation is not good."

But for those in the area, France's weather agency released some good news on Tuesday, lowering the level of weather alert to orange from red -- meaning temperatures are expected to drop across the country.

As temperatures fall, this is expected to significantly diminish the risk of new fires.