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Holidaymakers warned to stay ‘extremely vigilant’ as wildfires in France force thousands to evacuate

A woman takes a picture of a wildfire that broke out leading to the evacuation of more than 3.000 people from nearby campsites in Saint-Andre.
A woman takes a picture of a wildfire that broke out leading to the evacuation of more than 3.000 people from nearby campsites in Saint-Andre. Copyright Raymond ROIG / AFP
Copyright Raymond ROIG / AFP
By Ally Wybrew
Published on Updated
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Thousands of residents and holidaymakers were forced to leave their homes and campsites as a fast-moving wildfire spread across southwestern France.

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A wildfire that sprung up in the Pyrenees region yesterday hit towns on the French and Spanish border causing mass evacuations.

Over 3,000 tourists and locals were removed from four campsites and two housing estates near Saint-André and Argelès-sur-Mer, just south of the city of Perpignan, as firefighters attempted to contain the blaze.

The inferno reached the populated areas after spreading over 500 hectares of land in the Pyrenees-Orientales region, one of the areas worst affected by this year’s ongoing drought. Hundreds of firefighters and a number of aircraft were deployed to tackle the fire.

The blaze spread unusually quickly due to high temperatures and winds reaching up to 80 kilometres per hour. Seventeen firefighters sustained injuries while attempting to contain the flames, with one being admitted to hospital.

Thirty houses, a campsite and a warehouse were damaged, roads were blocked and train services between Perpignan and the Spanish border were temporarily suspended.

Daniel Cole/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
The Serre-Poncon hydroelectric dam is pictured in France, Tuesday, May 2, 2023.Daniel Cole/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

French wildfire is under control but there could be more

By Tuesday a majority of holidaymakers were able to return to their campsites as the authorities have successfully contained the fire. However, further outbreaks are not being ruled out.

Senior regional official Rodrigue Furcy told a local French radio station that, "The fire has been contained,” but the area remained "under close surveillance and firefighters were still battling the blaze".

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has asked that “the population and holidaymakers be extremely vigilant".

Authorities are on high alert as many regions of the country are due for another bout of extreme heat.

Yesterday the regions of Savoie and Haute-Savoie on the French-Swiss border were added to the orange alert (the level below the maximum warning), while the Ain and Isère departments have been on heatwave watch since Sunday. Rhône, France's third-biggest city was added to the alert list on Saturday.

Higher temperatures are predicted for the Pyrénées-Orientales region as the week goes on, with spikes of up to 39 degrees Celsius looking likely due to a hot southerly wind moving in over the mountains.

Daniel Cole/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
A stranded sail boat with a sign reading "for sale" lies above the water line at the Serre-Poncon resevoir in FranceDaniel Cole/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

What’s happening with the weather in France?

Last year saw France’s hottest year on record, and this year, almost a third of Europe is classified as being in a state of crisis by the European Drought Agency.

Many countries across southern Europe have been affected by wildfires and heat waves due to a combination of the El Niño weather pattern and global warming. These unusual temperatures have affected travel to some areas.

Just this week 300,000 French residents were left with intermittent water supplies due to the drought plaguing southern areas of the country. The Pyrenees has also been suffering from severe heat for months.

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