10,000 evacuated over new wildfire in France

People enjoy the beach as they look at a forest fire in La Croix-Valmer, near Saint-Tropez, on July 25, 2017. Firefighters battle blazes that have consumed swathes of land in southeastern France for a second day, with one inferno out of control near the chic resort of Saint-Tropez, emergency services say. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2017
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10,000 evacuated over new wildfire in France

FRANCE: At least 10,000 people were evacuated overnight after a new wild fire broke out in southern France, which was already battling massive blazes that have consumed swathes of forest, authorities said Wednesday.
The new fire came a day after France asked for Europe’s help to tackle the flames already raging in the tinder dry south, including near the popular resort of Saint-Tropez.
“The evacuations, at least 10,000, followed the progression of the fire. It’s an area that doubles or triples its population in summer,” said a fire service official of the blaze near Bormes-les-Mimosas on the Mediterranean coast.
The number of people on France’s Cote d’Azur bulges in July and August as holidaymakers head to the beach, though the area is experiencing an exceptionally hot, dry summer that has made it especially vulnerable to fires.
On Tuesday over 4,000 firefighters and troops backed by 19 water bombers had already been mobilized to extinguish the flames, which have left swathes of charred earth in their wake.
At least 12 firefighters have been injured and 15 police officers affected by smoke inhalation since the fires broke out on Monday, according to the authorities.
The blazes on Tuesday had devoured around 4,000 hectares (15 square miles) of land along the Mediterranean coast, in the mountainous interior and on the island of Corsica.
With strong winds and dry brush creating a dangerous mix, the government asked its European Union partners to send two extra fire-fighting planes — a request immediately fulfilled by Italy, according to the EU.
But one union official denounced what he said was a lack of spare parts preventing all the aircraft required from being put into action.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced on Tuesday that France would be adding six more firefighting planes to its fleet during a visit to Corsica.


A fire in La Croix-Valmer near Saint-Tropez, a resort frequented by the rich and famous, had been contained, local fire chief Philippe Gambe de Vergnes said Tuesday.
But the blaze had already consumed 400 hectares of coastal forest in an area dotted with homes, he said. More than 200 people had to be moved from the area.
La Croix-Valmer’s deputy mayor Rene Carandante described a desolate landscape of blackened headlands fringed by charred umbrella pines, where green forest had once framed the azure waters of the Mediterranean.
“It’s a disaster area. There’s nothing left,” he said.
Francois Fouchier, of the local coastal conservation group, told AFP that local wildlife, such as the Hermann’s tortoises, would be victims of the fires. “We are going to find burnt shells.”
Around 80 kilometers (50 miles) inland, 300 hectares of pines and oaks went up in smoke near the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.
A local official accused the authorities of failing to regularly remove dry undergrowth, making the forest a fire hazard.
The French island of Corsica, situated midway between France and Italy, was also assessing the damage.
A resident, whose house had at one point been in danger, spoke of “apocalyptic” scenes.
In the end, disaster was averted after the wind died down, but the blaze engulfed 1,800 hectares of forest and burned several vehicles.
Further east, in Carros, north of Nice, a house, three vehicles and a warehouse went up in flames, according to regional authorities.
Speaking to France Info radio, Mayor Charles Scibetta described waking up to a “lunar landscape” and said the inhabitants had a lucky escape.

“All of France is mobilized,” the head of the fire service in southeast France, Col. Gregory Allione told France Info, adding that extra firefighters had been drafted in from the north.
Thomas Curt, a director at the Irsea institute for research into the environment and agriculture, said a fall-off in farming in southeast France since the 1970s had made it more prone to fires.
“Farmland is contracting and the forest is naturally expanding, making the area bushier,” he said.
A proliferation in the numbers of homes, roads and power lines near forests also increased the fire hazard, he added.
In mid-July, a blaze believed to have been ignited by a cigarette butt tossed out of a car ripped through 800 hectares of land near Aix-en-Provence.
Portugal, meanwhile, which last month suffered deadly forest fires, has been battling fresh blazes since Sunday in center of the country, forcing the evacuation of around 10 villages.


NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

Updated 24 min 22 sec ago
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NZ leader Ardern vows to deny accused gunman notoriety he seeks

  • ‘You will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal.’
  • “He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed Tuesday never to utter the name of the twin-mosque gunman as she opened a somber session of Parliament with an evocative “as salaam alaikum” message of peace to Muslims.

“He will face the full force of the law in New Zealand,” Ardern promised grieving Kiwis, while promising that she would deprive the man who slaughtered 50 people in Christchurch of the publicity he craved.

“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety,” she told assembled lawmakers of the 28-year-old Australian accused of the slaughter.

“That is why you will never hear me mention his name. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”

“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.”

Dressed in black, the 38-year-old leader opened her remarks in Parliament with the symbolism of the greeting uttered across the Islamic world.

“Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh” she said — ‘May the peace, mercy, and blessings of Allah be with you too.’

She closed her address by noting that “on Friday, it will be a week since the attack, members of the Muslim community will gather for worship on that day. Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.”

Her comments came as dozens of relatives of the deceased began arriving from around the world ahead of expected funerals which have already been delayed far beyond the 24 hours after death usually observed under Islamic custom.

The slow process of identification and forensic documentation has so far made burials impossible, augmenting families’ grief.

Javed Dadabhai, who traveled from Auckland to help bury his cousin, said families and volunteers were told: “It is going to be a very slow process, a very thorough process.”

“Some families have been invited to have a look at their family members... the ones that are easiest to recognize, but we are talking about three or four.”

“The majority of people still have not had the opportunity to see their family members,” he told AFP.

In the wake of the mass shooting, Ardern has promised to reform New Zealand gun laws that allowed the gunman to legally purchase the weapons he used in the attack on two Christchurch mosques, including semi-automatic rifles.

New Zealanders have already begun answering government appeals to hand in their weapons, including John Hart, a farmer in the North Island district of Masterton.

Hart said it was an easy decision for him to hand in his semi-automatic and tweeted that “on the farm they are a useful tool in some circumstances, but my convenience doesn’t outweigh the risk of misuse. We don’t need these in our country.”

The tweet drew a barrage of derogatory messages to his Facebook account —  most apparently from the US, where the pro-gun lobby is powerful and vociferous.

Hart deleted the messages but posted online: “A warm kia ora to all my new American Facebook friends.”

“I’m not familiar with your local customs, but I assume ‘Cuck’ is a traditional greeting,” he said of the insult, short for “cuckold” frequently used by far-right pundits.

Police said they did not have data available on the number of weapons handed in since Friday.