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Forest Fires in France

31  July 2003, 10:00

Latest Satellite Images:

Fig.1. : Forest Fires in Southern France
Forest fires have swept through scenic woodlands along the French Riviera on the country’s Mediterranean coastline, killing five people, destroying scenic forests and forcing thousands to evacuate the region. This image shows the Maures hills region along the coast of southeast France on 28 July 2003. A dark brown burn scar is evident to the northeast of the apex of the coastline, which is roughly centered in the image. Left of center (to the east of the lake) is the city of Marseille.

Source: NASA/EO

Fig.2. Fires in Southern France
Heat signatures are visible from fires burning along the French Reviera. The wildfires have killed five people, destroyed scenic forests and forced thousands to evacuate the region.

Source: OSEI / NOAA

Fig.3. Fire-weather forecast for Europe, 01 August  2003.

(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

Southern Europe-Overlook
31 July 2003, 08:00

Firefighters are trying to contain the last of the major forest fires which have devastated parts of southern France in recent days, killing five people. But several fresh blazes broke out on Wednesday, including one at Salon-de-Provence, where 17 firefighters were hurt, two seriously. Dry weather and soaring temperatures have led to hundreds of blazes throughout Europe. More than 500 firefighters and 300 soldiers have been fighting forest fires in central Portugal, one of which killed an elderly man as it swept through his home. Temperatures of 40C have hindered the operation, and the flames have charred large areas north-east of the capital, Lisbon.

Source: BBC News

French battle to control fires
31 July 2003, 08:00

In France, helicopters were dropping hundreds of gallons of water on a fire at La Motte, near the Cote d’Azur, as around 700 firefighters worked on the ground. Foreign firefighters – from Italy and Russia – have been helping their French colleagues while Greece and Norway have offered to send firefighting aircraft. Officials said the forests were being doused to prevent the further spread of the fires if the fierce local winds, known as the “mistral”, strengthen again. Thousands of people – many of them holidaymakers – have been moved to emergency accommodation since around two dozen fires broke out on Monday. The French authorities announced earlier that police would stop and search people visiting forests in the south to try to prevent arsonists starting more fires. “Twenty-nine fires breaking out almost simultaneously in the Var (on Monday), including seven in Frejus… I don’t think that there can be any doubt about the theory of criminal intent,” Frejus mayor Elie Brun told the French news agency AFP. But other officials said most of the fires were probably started by accident or natural combustion in the scorching heat. “The myth of the evil arsonist must not become a permanent alibi that lets everyone else off the hook,” said Bernard Foucault, in charge of forest protection on the Mediterranean coast. “The person who most often starts a fire is Mr or Mrs Everyman.” The authorities are promising severe punishment for anyone who does deliberately start fires.  A man accused of starting several fires appeared in court on Wednesday afternoon. He is alleged to have caused multiple fires and to have materials in his possession for igniting others this month, but he is not being investigated over this week’s fires. unsuccessfully to become a firefighter and was described by the prosecutor in the case as “mentally fragile”. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who travelled to the region, described the fires as an “ecological massacre”. Four foreign tourists are among the dead in France. A British teenager and her grandmother were found dead in woods outside the village of La Garde Freinet in the Maures hills. A Dutch woman and a Polish man also died in the Var region. A man severely injured on Corsica died in hospital.

Source: BBC News

French fire fighting
31 July 2003, 09:00

The battle to contain the forest fires in southern France preoccupies the country’s press. France’s Le Monde focuses on the difficult task facing fire-fighters in south-eastern France to bring forest fires under control. The paper says Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was told by fire chiefs at a crisis meeting that “there is no precedent in recorded French fire-fighting history” for such fierce and extensive blazes. Le Figaro takes the same line. It warns that continuing hot weather and strong winds are expected to complicate the work of the fire-fighters even further. It also highlights the efforts taken by the government to crack down on arsonists. But it adds that the authorities are keen to discourage “any kind of collective psychosis causing people to see pyromaniacs everywhere.

Source: BBC News

France: Hunt for arsonists after conflagration in southeastern France 
Wed. 30 July 2003, 11:00

Nice/ Nizza (dpa) – After forest fires in southeastern  France and Corsica the search for arsonists runs on full speed. Two suspicious men already are in detention. One of them is a local employee. He admitted arson in many cases because he was in rage by rejecting as a fireman. South of Draguignan meanwhile the battle against flames continues. 700 firefighters are in operation. Five people died so far.

Source: Die Abendzeitung

Fires in Southern France: Four died and 8 000 hectares devastated 

Source: Le Monde, 29 July 2003

President Jacques Chirac promised  “sanctions of an extraordinary gravity” against the pyromaniacs, who seem to be the cause of several fires:  Incendiary compositions  have been found near the hotspots. On Tuesday at daybreak the water bombers began again their rotations over the three fires still in progress in Le Var, where two British vacationers died in the flames.  Moreover  900 firemen continued to fight Tuesday morning against the flames, wich had destroyed 7. 500 hectares of pine forests. The fire front spread of several kilometers and reached on Monday around 11 p.m. the periphery of the seaside resort of Sainte-Maxime on the gulf of Saint-Tropez, causing scenes of panic, plunging the city in darkness and making the telephone impracticable.  According to a first official assessment, four people died. Between 50 and 60 houses were destroyed or touched by the flames.  The firemen and  the mayor of Frejus, Elie Brun, denounced “the criminal behavior of the pyromaniacs”, noting that about thirty hotspots  had been counted on Monday, “often at the same time and in places close to the others”. “On Frejus incendiary compositions,  i.e. bottles with wicks inside, were found”, affirmed the mayor of Frejus.

Fires in Southern France: Italian reinforcement
Source: Le Monde, 29 July 2003

Civil Safety had to appeal on  Monday with reinforcement of Italian firefighters to fight fires which devastate southern France. The fires are without precedent in terms of violence and simultanety. In Corsica the fires are spreading in the north of Bonifacio where a man was seriously burned and operations of evacuations were carried out by air and sea. In Hautes-Alpes a hundred hectares were destroyed near Montbrison.

For more information look at the media page:  
Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics

For fire statistics of France : See GFMC statistics page for France:

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