LA TESTE-DE-BUCH, France – More than 2,000 firefighters from across France battled a raging wildfire on Tuesday that burned nearly 80 square miles of arid forest in the Gironde region, to the north. southwest of the country and forced more than 37,000 people to evacuate in the past week.
In the small town of La Teste-de-Buch, near the popular resort site of Arcachon Bay, a temporary fire headquarters is buzzing. Fire trucks rattled back and forth as helicopters and water-dropping planes flew overhead and officers reviewed color-coded maps of the flames.
While temperatures dropped overnight as cool air from the sea pushed the heat wave further northeast, firefighters’ efforts were hampered by strong winds, arid conditions and burning trees. nearly caused the fire to burn through the air, spreading the fire further.
Matthieu Jomain, a spokesman for the regional fire department, said: “The climate conditions are insane. “It’s an explosive cocktail.”
“The area is really a real powder keg,” he added.
Huge plumes of gray and red smoke billowing from the fires reached as far as Bordeaux, about 30 miles northeast, on Tuesday. A pungent smell was in the air there, and the health authorities encourage that residents – especially vulnerable people, such as those with respiratory illnesses – stay indoors and limit intense physical activity.
Another wildfire is burning deeper inland, near the town of Landiras. Local government said in a statement on Tuesday that “the situation remains very unfavorable” in the area, where firefighters battled the blaze overnight and many roads were closed.
A man remained in police custody Tuesday in connection with the fire; prosecutors in Bordeaux have opened an investigation into the arson on suspicions that it was intentionally set.
At the fire base at La Teste-de-Buch, trucks cut down vegetation to clear a patch of land and create a natural barrier against the fire. In another area, firefighters poured white sand along a nearly mile-long stretch of road.
Empty buildings line the asphalt road leading to the base. Only a handful of buildings have been damaged or destroyed by the fire and no deaths have been recorded so far. Authorities prevented the evacuation of thousands of visitors and residents, who were not immediately threatened but were likely in the path of the fire.
Ronan Léaustic, a local official in Arcachon, told reporters on Tuesday that “it’s the strategy we’ve adopted from the beginning” to avoid panic attacks and last-minute runs.
Nearly half of those displaced were evacuated on Monday, as flames flared and thick plumes of smoke moved closer to Arcachon Bay, a tourist hotspot known for its oysters and beaches. sandy area attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every summer.
The fire destroyed five campsites around Dune du Pilat, Europe’s tallest sand dune nearby. Authorities closed the entrance to the Dune du Pilat and traffic jams blocked the entrance to Arcachon Bay after sections of the motorway leading to Bordeaux were closed to facilitate evacuations, planning thousands when the French summer holiday season is in full swing.
Patrick Davet, mayor of La Teste-de-Buch, warned Tuesday that the fire is “an enemy that never sleeps, never moves, leaving you no time to rest.”
“The fire is contained in some places, but it is still not under control,” said Davet . told BFMTV news channel.
The Bassin d’Arcachon Zoo in La Teste-de-Buch began evacuating animals when the fire was dangerously close to the facility.
Zoo staff, workers and veterinarians around the country acted “tirelessly to exploit as many animals as possible, until the very last moment, while the nearby forest was engulfed in flames.” ”, the French government said in a statement.
About 10 of the zoo’s 850 animals died from heat and stress, but 363 – all of which can be easily transported – were safely evacuated. Most of them were brought in specially designed crates and trucks to a nearby zoo on the outskirts of Bordeaux.
The French Association of Zoological Parks said about 380 animals were kept at the zoo “for safety reasons”.
Méheut remains unchanged reported from La Teste-de-Buch, and Aurelien Breeden from Paris.