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French firefighters contain Riviera wildfires, evacuees return

Anne-Christine POUJOULAT, AFP | People enjoy the beach as a fire burns a forest behind them in Bormes-les-Mimosas, southeastern France, on July 26, 2017.

More than 12,000 evacuated residents and tourists in the south of France began to return to their homes and holiday places after firefighters tamed one of the fiercest blazes to break out during four days of wildfires.


The fire in the Mediterranean seaside town of Bormes-les-Mimosas in the southern Var region calmed Thursday because of a drop in the wind   but still marked the skyline with clouds of black smoke that were visible for miles.

Local authorities said that while it was safe for people to return to places they'd evacuated in the Bormes-les-Mimosas area, the fire risk remained at its highest level in other parts of the Var region.

Despite the progress, authorities fear there may be new fires and flare-ups due to dry conditions and higher winds in weather forecasts. Firefighters are still battling blazes in Artigues, some 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from Bormes-les-Mimosas.

Before being allowed to go back to their homes and campsites, evacuees were being housed in makeshift shelters. A sailing club near Bormes-les-Mimosas was hosting 200 people, including tourists, who were evacuated Wednesday night.

One displaced French camper, Stephanie Reiny, who slept at the sailing club, was upbeat on learning that the firefighters were making progress. "I will go straight away to the camping site for sure ... I'm not scared anymore," she said.

Some 3,000 firefighters have been deployed to contain the flames that broke out Monday in the southeast of France and on the island of Corsica. The fires so far have consumed 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of trees and other vegetation.

There have been no reported casualties.

French commentators fear the devastation in Bormes-les-Mimosas and other damaged areas will keep visitors away and disrupt the tourism on which the Riviera's economy relies.

As helicopters and planes carrying water flew overhead, Bormes-les-Mimosas Mayor Francois Arizzi told reporters Thursday he felt "sadness and anger."

"Seeing heritage like this going up in flames is sad. It's a lifetime's effort from local people that is destroyed," Arizzi said.

Arizzi also accused unknown "harmful" individuals of starting the fires, though did not explain why he thinks the blazes were human-caused.

"I'm not an investigator, but we have to stop closing our eyes to the facts. We need to find the persons responsible and punish them so that they don't do it again," the mayor said.

"Behind all this there are lives in danger, men who are working day and night, and they are putting their life in danger for the safety of others," he added.


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