In France thousands of firemen and soldiers appeared on Monday (13 August) to be winning the battle against the forest fires raging through the hills above the Riviera.
In France thousands of firemen and soldiers appeared on Monday (13 August) to be winning the battle against the forest fires raging through the hills above the Riviera. But fires were still crackling through parts of the tinder-dry woodland along the coast from Cannes to Montpelier after a four-day battle during which fourteen thousand hectares (34,700 acres) of forest were destroyed.
SYNOPSIS: Tourists ran for their lives on Sunday (12 August) as flames bore down on forest-edge camp sites. Firemen had thought the worst was over when the strong Mistral wind began to subside, but later it hanged direction and eighty-kilometre (50 mile) an hour gusts fanned the flames. Many of the fires started on Friday (10 August) when flames cut off the main Marseilles-Nice railway line and forced more than two thousand campers to flee. The dry scrub has seen only one and a half inches (four millimetres) or rain since April, less than a third of the usual rainfall.
At least twenty firefighters were hurt fighting the blaze, one of them seriously. French President Giscard D'Estaing who was on holiday nearby inspected the area and said he was stunned by what he saw. He called it a major catastrophe. Reinforcements including army conscripts and forest wardens, and more than three thousand troops were brought in form all over France to help the firemen combat the blaze, and eighteen specially designed fire-fighting seaplanes dumped five-tonne loads of water on the areas where the fire had strongest hold.
Although fire officials said arsonists may be responsible for some of the fires, others were more likely the result of carelessness. Fire inspectors arrested two West German hitch hikers believed to have caused a fire while cooking a meal. Officials said that in this case damage was limited to half a hectare (one acre). The Federal Government has said it will make every effort to restore the forests, but that could take ten years. There has been widespread criticism from local people who consider the fire-fighting resources to be inadequate.