Strong winds fan fierce wildfire in southern France

Firefighters stand next to fire engines as they arrive to tackle the forest fire that rages near the village of Monze, in the Aude department, southern France August 15, 2019. — AFP pic
Firefighters stand next to fire engines as they arrive to tackle the forest fire that rages near the village of Monze, in the Aude department, southern France August 15, 2019. — AFP pic

CARCASSONNE (France), Aug 15 — More than 500 firefighters battled today to contain a fire sweeping through a pine forest in southern France, with officials warning that strong winds could hinder efforts to bring the blaze under control.

Some 900 hectares have been destroyed since the fire broke out yesterday afternoon in the rugged hills of the Aude department, about 100km southeast of Toulouse.

Commander Philippe Fabre of the Aude fire service told AFP there had been a “slight letup” early today, with firefighters able to halt the fire’s advance.

But he said winds were expected to gust at up to 60kph later today, and efforts would be focused on “extinguishing the fiercest hotspots and preventing flare-ups in hard-to-reach areas”.

No injuries have been reported and so far no homes have been destroyed, though 22 people were evacuated from their homes in the Val-de-Dagne commune.

“Firefighters were able to stop the flames from reaching the houses but all the surrounding vegetation was destroyed. We had to evacuate the horses and donkeys,” said Christian Lacube, the commune’s mayor.

The cause of the blaze is not yet known, though authorities had warned of extremely dry conditions across much of southern France after weeks of drought.

“This fire is proving complicated because the areas are very difficult to access, there aren’t any practicable roads,” Anne Laybourne, chief of staff for the government’s top official in the region, told AFP.

Three tanker planes were dropping water on the flames, with two more on standby.

Around 450 firefighters were also tackling a wildfire near Beziers along the Mediterranean coast that began yesterday, though officials said it was under control today after burning some 250 hectares. — AFP

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