BORMES-LES-MIMOSAS (France) • More than 10,000 people, including thousands of holidaymakers, were evacuated from campsites and homes in southern France as firefighters yesterday battled the latest in a string of huge blazes along the Mediterranean coast.
The new fire broke out on Tuesday night after France asked for Europe's help to tackle the flames already raging in several spots in the tinder-dry south, including near the popular Riviera resort of Saint-Tropez.
Firefighters are also battling fires on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica and in Portugal.
About 3,000 of those evacuated from the coastal village of Bormes-les-Mimosas were tourists staying in campgrounds, some of whom ended up spending the night in sleeping bags on the beach.
Village mayor Francois Arizzi said between 10,000 and 12,000 people had been moved to public shelters but that some had preferred to sleep in their cars.
Ms Lisa Minor, travel editor of British tabloid The Sun, who was in the area on a family holiday, tweeted pictures of orange smoke billowing from a ridge behind her campsite and of bleary-eyed families packed into a beachfront creche. "Sirens still going off. Some info would be nice. Winds still high," she wrote.
The head of the rescue operation, Mr Serge La Vialle, told Agence France-Presse that more than 550 firefighters, backed by five water bomber aircraft, had not yet managed to contain the blaze.
"It's moving slowly and even growing a bit," he said.
France's Cote d'Azur bulges in July and August as holidaymakers head to the beach. Bormes-les-Mimosas "doubles or triples its population in summer", a local fire official said.
The area is experiencing a particularly hot and dry summer that has made it especially vulnerable to fires.
Mayor Arizzi told French radio he believed Tuesday night's blaze, which started in a caravan storage depot, was the work of arsonists. Other fires have been blamed on discarded cigarettes.
Over 4,000 firemen and troops, backed by 19 water bombers, have been mobilised to fight the fires that began on Monday, fanned by strong winds. At least 12 firefighters have been injured and 15 police officers affected by smoke inhalation, according to the authorities.
The blazes have devoured around 5,000ha of land along the coast, in the mountainous interior and on the island of Corsica.
Portugal, meanwhile, which last month suffered deadly forest fires, has been battling fresh blazes since Sunday in the centre of the country, forcing the evacuation of around 10 villages. About 1,100 firemen have been drafted to stop the advance of the flames in the same area that was engulfed by fire last month, leaving 64 people dead.
Mr Thomas Curt, a director at the Irsea institute for research into the environment and agriculture, said a drop-off in farming in south-east France since the 1970s had made it more prone to fires.
"Farmland is contracting and the forest is naturally expanding, making the area bushier," he said.
A proliferation in the number of homes, roads and power lines near forests also increased the fire hazard, he added.