(Bessèges) The fire which has ravaged 650 hectares of forest since Thursday in the Cévennes, in the north of Gard, evolved “favorably” on Friday, in a “high-risk context” where the firefighters were overstretched with other outbreaks of fire to manage in the department.
Météo-France had placed the Gard on Friday “on maximum alert for forest fires” due to the heat, gusts of wind and vegetation weakened by extreme and early drought.
In the north of the department, near the Ardèche, some 745 firefighters from all over France remained mobilized for the “mega-fire”, according to the term used by the relief services, which have been mobilizing them since Thursday evening.
“We are working the fire on its edges, but it will be a very long fire to finish because there are kilometers of edges. We will be able to speak of a controlled fire when there is no longer any risk of resumption. But with the very unfavorable weather conditions we are facing, it may not be before Sunday, “said Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Agrinier, communications officer for the Gard firefighters, to AFP.
On the ground, the vegetation was totally destroyed in places, the treetops were preserved in others. “From a distance we can see the brown Cévennes… it hurts,” said Anaïs Donval, a resident of Bessèges, who had been evacuated for the night.
“Afterwards, there is more fear than harm, there was very little damage and no injuries, that’s the main thing,” she added, reassured to know her house was spared.
Despite the violence of the flames which ravaged hundreds of hectares in a few hours, only a garage and a mazet (small rural building) were burned.
According to its mayor, Olivier Martin, the village of Gagnières was “saved” thanks to firefighters who quickly lit a counterfire.
However, this fire remains modest compared to the 5000 hectares burned in September 1985 a few kilometers away, in the region of Portes, a disaster engraved in the memory of the elders.
Over-solicited since Thursday, the Gard firefighters faced eight other fires in the department on Friday, where the prefect had banned until Monday from entering all forest areas of more than one hectare.
Thus, a hundred other firefighters, supported by a water bomber helicopter and four Canadair, intervened in Sainte-Anastasie, above Nîmes, where at least one hectare had been covered. The tourist sites of La Baume and the Saint-Nicolas bridge, upstream from the Pont du Gard, have been evacuated.
Near Arles, another fire was underway, in Beaucaire, near homes, but it was “not worrying” for firefighters.
Overall, it is the whole of south-eastern France which faces “a very high danger of fires”, according to the general direction of civil security, which recommends great caution until Sunday, recalling that nine fires on ten are of human origin, due to economic activity or carelessness (cigarette butts, barbecues, campfires).
Fire starts are increasing throughout the area, as in the Bouches-du-Rhône, where firefighters have identified 51 fires in natural areas during the day. But less than 150 hectares were destroyed thanks to a well-established “incipient fire attack strategy” in the southern Mediterranean.
For safety, the Bouches-du-Rhône prefecture announced on Friday the extension to Saturday of the closure of six of the 25 forests in the department. The city of Nîmes has already announced on Friday that it is canceling its July 14 fireworks display.
If summer drought is frequent in the South, with global warming, the intensity and frequency of these episodes of drought are likely to increase further, according to UN climate experts. According to the government, the water deficit currently reaches 50 to 80% in certain Mediterranean departments.
At the end of June, some 1800 hectares had already burned on the military camp of Canjuers (Var) and 1250 hectares in the Pyrénées-Orientales.