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10 Aug, 2022 21:09

Largest French wildfire may be ‘act of arson’

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin says the origins of the blaze devouring Gironde are suspicious
Largest French wildfire may be ‘act of arson’

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Wednesday he strongly suspected the forest fire that flared up in the department of Gironde may have been restarted by arsonists. More than 6,200 hectares have burned down so far this week, the major highway leading to Bordeaux has been shut down, and up to 10,000 local residents told to evacuate.

“There were eight fires, between 8 and 9 this morning, that started a few hundred meters apart, which is quite unusual,” Darmanin told reporters during a trip to Aveyron in central France.

He is expected in Gironde on Thursday, along with French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who announced a “total” mobilization to fight the blaze.

“On several fronts, our firefighters are facing particularly violent fires,” she said on Wednesday. “The mobilization of the government and state services, alongside local elected officials, volunteers and residents, is total.”

A wildfire in southern Gironde, previously considered contained, flared up over the past two days. The flames, described by local media as “out of control,” have devastated over 6,200 hectares of forest near Hostens, and forced a temporary closure of a portion of A63, the highway linking Bordeaux to Bayonne. 

The fire is threatening the towns of Saint-Magne and Landiras, but also spreading towards the neighboring prefecture of Landes. The most recently evacuated town was Beliet, with some 2,500 residents. No casualties have been reported so far, however.

Darmanin said that over 1,000 firefighters, nine planes and two helicopters were already engaged in fighting the fire, and urged local employers to allow volunteer firefighters to take time off work and help with the blaze.

The Hostens fire is by far the largest of about half a dozen active conflagrations across France, followed by the blaze near Bauge-en-Anjou in Maine-et-Loire, which was estimated at 1,200 hectares as of noon on Wednesday.