Two people have died during France’s biggest wildfire of the summer, local authorities have confirmed as the blaze continued to rage in the countryside behind Saint-Tropez.
At least one man is among the deceased, local prosecutor Patrice Camberou told the TV channel France 3. He said the other body, found in a destroyed home in the village of Grimaud, was too badly burned to identify.
France has deployed 1,200 firefighters and a dozen aircraft to try to contain the blaze, which broke out on Monday night near a motorway rest stop and has torn across 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) in the south-eastern region of Var. Although the fire lost pace on Tuesday night, it still has not been contained, firefighters told Agence France-Presse.
Around 10,000 people, including tourists holidaying on the French Riviera, have been evacuated and spent the night in welcome centres around the region.
Twenty-nine people have been injured, including five firefighters, the local prefecture said, with most suffering smoke inhalation.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, visited the region on Tuesday before the death was announced, saying: “The worst has been avoided.”
France had until now been spared the wildfire devastation that has consumed other parts of the Mediterranean this summer, including in Greece, Spain, Turkey, Italy and Algeria.
Delphine Oberti, a resident of Cavalaire-sur-Mer, fled her home with her two children to shelter at her parents’ house as embers began to fall. Her husband stayed behind to defend their house. “It’s apocalyptic,” she said. “The sky was red, we couldn’t breathe, we couldn’t see our neighbours’ houses.
“My children are disturbed, my six-year-old son talks of nothing but the fires.”
Yet Oberti, who works in Grimaud, said they were lucky – their home was not lost and they have been able to return.
The fire has burned through more than 50% of Plaine des Maures natural reserve, a biodiversity hotspot in the region, said the park conservator, Marie-Claude Serra. With the flames still not contained, she has yet to survey the full extent of the damage to the park, which is home to 240 protected species including reptiles, bats and the endangered Hermann’s tortoise.
“Amid this human catastrophe, the worry is that we’re living through an ecological catastrophe as well,” Serra said.
Recent weather conditions have left the reserve extremely vulnerable to the threat of wildfire. “There’s very little moisture in the plants. This, combined with the high heat and the wind produced the explosive cocktail that we are now experiencing – devastating fires that move very, very quickly,” Serra said.
“We need to stop asking whether climate change is here or not. It’s here – what are we going to do about it?”
The 2021 fire is moving much faster than previous catastrophic blazes in the region, firefighters told BFM TV. In 2003, four people died and more than 70,000 hectares burned in the south of France.
Firefighters are also battling blazes in the Aude region in the south-west, and in Beaumes-de-Venise, Provence.