Wildfires have turned deadly in southern France, killing at least three people, according to firefighters. Thousands of people have fled the fires near the tourist beaches of St. Tropez.


Wildfires have turned deadly in southern France. Firefighters say they’ve killed at least three people. Thousands of residents and tourists have fled the blaze near the beaches of the French Riviera. NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports.



ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: French news coverage showed firefighters battling the flames through a third night using high-pressure hoses. Water-bombing planes and helicopters are also being deployed against the flames engulfing the Mediterranean back country, known for its pine forest, vineyards and olive groves.

PETER JONES: The vegetation is so dry, so it burns off like a torch.

BEARDSLEY: That’s firefighter Peter Jones, who’s been battling fires in the region for 25 years. He says this is one of the worst seasons ever, compounded by drought and high winds. The mythic mistral wind is blowing and it makes the fire jump twice as far as usual, sometimes 800 yards at a time. Jones says the fire’s speed and quickly changing direction make things treacherous.

JONES: It spreads so fast that it was nearly in the suburbs of the grove (ph) of St. Tropez in its first night. And so it’s a very difficult thing to change tactical positions as the wind changes from one direction to another.


BEARDSLEY: Stunned vacationers watched firefighting planes scoop water from the sea amidst sailboats and yachts off the coast of St. Tropez to refill their tanks. More than 10,000 residents and vacationers have been evacuated. Some are being housed in gymnasiums, others sleeping on the beach.


UNIDENTIFIED CAMPER #1: (Speaking French).

UNIDENTIFIED CAMPER #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Our tent, our trailer, everything is gone, these campers told a French news channel. We had to get out so fast. We’re still in our pajamas.

Seasonal wildfires are usual in the Mediterranean basin, but scientists say global warming is increasing their frequency and intensity. Firefighter Peter Jones says European countries are trying to help each other and share means. Fighting fires takes solidarity, he says. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Eygalieres, France.


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