French firefighters have resorted to increasingly desperate measures in the face of massive wildfires which have forced the evacuation of 37,000 people.
Authorities say they are losing the battle against three separate blazes which have burned more than 19,000 hectares of forest, rapidly advancing toward tourist hotspots in the country’s south-west.
One team was seen dumping canisters of cooking gas from a five-star beachside hotel in Pyla-sur-Mer into its swimming pool on Monday, as forecasters described an ‘apocalypse of heat’ in the area with temperatures nearing 44C.
Behind them, huge plumes of smoke billowed over the Dune du Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe – a looming reminder of why they had no time to drive the canisters to a secure location.
Pyla is sandwiched between the Atlantic ocean and an ‘octopus’ of fires fuelled by dry pine forests and swirling winds, covering an area 6 miles long and 5 miles wide.
Around 6,000 people fled campsites around the forest after the wildfire started two weeks ago, and 9,000 were evacuated on Monday alone from surrounding towns.
Holidaymakers on a crowded beach in nearby Arcachon watched as a thick black cloud blocked out the sun.
More than 1,200 firefighters have been unable to control the blaze, as well as another inland at Landiras which has raged since early last week.
Some reported seeing 40-year-old tree trunks ‘exploding’ under the heat.
One official told a local radio station: ‘It’s a real octopus. There’s not necessarily one head of fire. There are several heads of fire.’
In some areas the flames are so strong that firefighters have had to give up trying to put them out and instead set ‘tactical fires’ that cut off the overall blaze from fuel sources or pull it towards a safer area.
Late on Monday a man was arrested on suspicion of starting the Landiras fire as ‘an act of voluntary malevolence’.
Two further fires have broken out in the north-west and south-east but are thought to be under control.
No deaths have been reported in France, although a wildfire in northern Spain has claimed the lives of one firefighter and a 69-year-old shepherd.
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