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Fires in southern France ‘under control’

A picture taken on July 25, 2017 shows a fire burning in Artigues, as part of a blaze that has consumed swathes of land in southeastern France for a second day in a row. / AFP PHOTO / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT

Huge fires that forced mass evacuations of residents and holidaymakers in southern France were “under control” early Thursday, firefighters said, although they warned new blazes were still starting.

In the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, located near beaches popular with tourists on the Cote d’Azur, “the fire is not completely under control but we are winning the fight,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Bernier, the civil security officer leading the emergency effort there.

“Things are going in the right direction but new fires are starting caused by gusts of wind,” he said.

In the neighbouring Bouches-du-Rhone region, three major fires that have burned thousands of square kilometres were also tamed or being dampened down on Thursday, firefighters told AFP.

But authorities were on high alert, fearing that new blazes could start in the hot, dry conditions, fanned by the strong Mistral wind.

“In such dry conditions, we really fear that fires could start again,” one firefighter said.

Around 10,000 holidaymakers and residents were forced to flee to the safety of public shelters overnight Tuesday as flames swept towards campsites.

Some holidaymakers took refuge on beaches.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited an accommodation centre for evacuees in Bormes-les-Mimosas on Wednesday evening.

Over 6,000 firefighters, troops and civil security officials are involved in efforts to put out the flames, backed up by 19 planes that drop containers of water on the flaming trees and bushes.

More than 7,000 hectares of vegetation have been burned.

Forest fires also raged early Thursday in Portugal, cutting off roads in the centre of the country and forcing thousands to flee just a month after deadly blazes left more than 60 people dead.

The biggest fire was in Serta, in the Castelo Branco region, where more than a quarter of the country’s firefighters were attempting to halt its progress.

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