Wildfires tamed in France, Portugal but new blazes feared
High winds and tinderbox conditions fuelled fears of new fires in southern France on Thursday as blazes which killed three people on the Portuguese holiday island of Madeira were brought under control.
Firefighters tamed wildfires on the northern edge of the French port city of Marseille overnight but local official Jean Rampon said “violent winds are exposing the area to the risk of new fires,” adding that the dry vegetation was a “matter of concern”.
Air tankers were seen taking off from the firefighters’ base in nearby Aix-en-Provence heading towards Marseille, France’s second city, as fires continued to smoulder in the bone-dry conditions in the area.
At the port of Fos-sur-Mer, northwest of Marseille, 800 hectares (2,000 acres) went up in flames on Wednesday, Rampon told AFP.
Meanwhile fires in Madeira’s picturesque capital Funchal, which had turned the sky orange and forced foreign holidaymakers to be evacuated, were brought under control overnight.
The fires had broken out on Monday on the island known as the “Pearl of the Atlantic”, where three people perished in their homes close to the historic centre of Funchal.
“At this time only one active fire remains, in the town of Calheta” in the west of the island, while blazes have been contained in Funchal and the neighbouring town of Camara de Lobos, a civil protection official said Thursday.
Smoke still lingered over Funchal, which had been covered by vast clouds of smoke when the blazes raged on Wednesday.
– Sheltering in barracks –
Around 1,000 people were initially evacuated, including many foreign tourists, and 400 people spent a second night Wednesday at an army barracks.
A hotel overlooking Funchal was destroyed and more than 150 homes were left uninhabitable, officials said.
Civil protection official Rubina Leal said the mercury topped 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the hottest temperature there since 1976, while winds gusted to 90 kilometres an hour (55 mph).
On the Portuguese mainland meanwhile, some 1,800 firefighters were battling a dozen major forest fires that have raged since last weekend in the north of the country.
Portugal’s EU partners have answered a call to assist and an Italian air tanker will join two Spanish water bombers already deployed, while Morocco has also offered to contribute two additional planes.
In southern France, the fires took hold Wednesday afternoon and spread over 3,300 hectares of scrubland and wooded areas.
Some 1,800 firefighters, including many drafted in from elsewhere in France joined the battle backed by around 500 rescue vehicles, five air tankers and two helicopters and around 100 police, Rampon said.
“Three people suffered burns including one who is seriously injured,” he said, adding that around 20 firefighters and a dozen police officers were suffering from smoke inhalation.
Around 500 people forced to leave their homes spent the night in shelters in the area, including 300 from the city of Vitrolles, some 30 km north of Marseille, which lost 1,600 hectares to the blazes.
Fires damaged many houses and several industrial buildings in Vitrolles, Rampon said.
Transport by road and air was badly affected by the fire on Wednesday evening, with two motorways closed and some flights cancelled at Marseille airport.