Firefighters tame wildfire in France, but unfavourable forecast sparks fear of ‘restart’

Firefighters have tamed but not fully controlled a huge wildfire blazing through the backcountry of the French Riviera, the top state official in the region said Friday.

The prefect of the Var region, Evence Richard, told reporters that the fire was considered stabilized, meaning it’s not spreading. But he warned that rising temperatures and a changing wind forecast for the weekend could bring more bad news.

“We can’t exclude a new restart of the fire,” he said.

The fire, now in its fifth day, has killed two people since it started Monday — a man in his 50s who died at his home in Grimaud, about 12 kilometres inland from Saint-Tropez, and a 32-year-old woman on vacation in the same village.

Mayors of affected towns held a meeting on Friday to assess the situation.

A car destroyed by wildfires is seen in Val de Gilly, France, on Thursday. (Daniel Cole/The Associated Press)

“The coming three days will be decisive,” the regional government said in a statement. The entire forested area remains at “very serious” risk of fire with access “strictly forbidden.”

Since Monday, the blaze has eaten through 8,100 hectares of forests and other vegetation, including vineyards.

More than 1,000 firefighters with 250 trucks worked through the night to secure the edges of the blaze so flames would not spread before daylight allowed flyovers by water-dumping aircraft to resume, the Var government said.

The blaze, which has forced the evacuation of some 10,000 people from summer campers to residents, is the latest among numerous large wildfires to have scorched the Mediterranean region this summer. Forest fires have left areas in Greece, Turkey, Italy, Algeria and Spain in smoldering ruins.

Hundreds of fires in Greece this month came in the wake of the country’s worst heat wave in about three decades that left shrubland and forests parched. The causes of all fires have not been officially established, although more than a dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

WATCH | Wildfires ravage Greece, displacing thousands: 

Wildfires ravage Greece, displacing thousands

Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes across Greece as wildfires burn out of control. The country is also facing its worst heatwave in over three decades with temperatures soaring to 45 C. 1:53

A major wildfire that has decimated a pine forest and burned homes northwest of Athens appeared somewhat abated on Friday, although hundreds of firefighters were still working to fully contain the blaze.

The fire near the village of Vilia, about 60 kilometres from the Greek capital, broke out Monday. Firefighters had been facing particularly tough conditions, including lack of access roads into the dense forest, high temperatures, dry conditions and constantly changing winds.

In a sign of the reach that large fires can have in terms of impact, the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity said on Friday that an earlier forest fire in southern France resulted in the Iberian peninsula being disconnected from the rest of the continental grid for 37 minutes last month.

Many parts of the world have seen summer wildfires fuelled by extreme heat and drought conditions. Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving such extreme weather events and that the world will see more and more of them as the planet warms.

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