‘We slept on the beach’: locals flee wildfires in south of France

Tourists leaving the beach in Bormes-les-Mimosas because of fire approaching on July 26, 2017.
Tourists leaving the beach in Bormes-les-Mimosas because of fire approaching on July 26, 2017. © Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFP
Text by: Florence RICHARD
Video by: Luke SHRAGO
3 min

The wildfires that began on Tuesday night near the popular holiday spot of Bormes-les-Mimosas in southern France forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes and hotels. FRANCE 24 spoke to shocked locals and holidaymakers about their ordeal.


The alarm was raised in the middle of the night in Bormes-les-Mimosas, after the fires that have already devastated the tinder dry region broke out near their village.

"The fire alarm rang out during the night, around 1am," Olivier Hertel, who was on holiday at Gaou-Cap Bénat, told FRANCE 24. "Friends and family started calling us telling us to get out, so we took the car and headed to the beach."

Hundreds took refuge on the beach that night, including campers from a local site that was also evacuated.

<>: Wildfires prompt major evacuations near French Riviera

Hertel and his family spent the night in their sleeping bags, watching from afar the terrifying spectacle of a fire intensifying, fanned by strong winds.

"There were lots people sleeping in their cars, some found rooms in emergency shelters provided by the local government," Olivier added.

Locals raise alarm

Parisian holidaymaker Renaud and his family fled their home in Cap Bénat in the middle of the night, alerted to the danger by a friend and locals honking their horns.

"We went to Le Lavandou, where we were sheltered in a restaurant that opened especially for all the evacuees,” Renaud said. “We slept in chairs and the owners kindly gave us croissants and coffee this morning."

Early in the morning, the situation remained critical on the front lines of the fire. "The fire was still raging at 7am this morning," Olivier said. "Planes made several passes over the Gaou-Cap Bénat to drop water bombs to battle the flames."

Olivier was able get to Cap Bénat on foot via small roads. He saw the fire taking hold again around mid-morning, but fortunately it was held back the now actively mobilised water bombers. With evident relief, Olivier told FRANCE 24 that his house has escaped the devastation and remains intact.

Renaud now just wants to get home to Paris as soon as possible. But by the end of the morning, all access to Cap Bénat was closed for security reasons.

"We expected to spend two or three days far from home," Renaud reported, still in shock from a night that he will unlikely forget.


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