Fire and destruction on the largest sand dune in Europe

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Dune of Pilat (France) (AFP) – In a typical July on Europe’s largest sand dune, holidaymakers climb to its summit for sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean beyond. This year, its heights are deserted, shrouded in smoke, under the buzzing fire planes.

The Dune du Pilat is a famous attraction on the west coast of France, with its sands rising sharply from thick pine forests that shade busy campsites and caravan parks during the summer months.

This year, forests are ablaze, sending thick clouds of smoke that obscure the sun as they drift over the ocean or towards the city of Bordeaux, 60 kilometers (36 miles) to the north- is.

Around 6,500 hectares of forest have burned so far near the dune – an area 12km long and 7.0km wide – with a further 12,800 hectares lost to a separate and larger fire further afield. ballast.

Firefighters are trying to control another fire further inland from the Dune du Pilat. THIBAUD MORITZAFP

“We were facing a wall of fire that was 40-50 meters high. It was a powder keg,” firefighter spokesman Matthieu Jomain told AFP on Tuesday from a blackened area next to the dune.

“There were sparks carried several hundred meters by the wind,” he added.

About 2,000 firefighters are fighting around the clock to bring the underworld under control, backed up by helicopters and Canadair firefighter planes that dive into the ocean to fill their tanks.

About 20,000 people were evacuated near the dune, including residents of the tourist town of La Teste-de-Buch where the temperature hovered around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

“The firefighters rang the doorbell to tell us that we had to evacuate immediately, then the police arrived five minutes later and told us the same thing,” a pensioner told AFP as he was leaving with his partner and his animals in a car.

– “Incredible” firefighters –

At least five campsites were destroyed by the flames, including one that featured in a recent popular French comedy series called “Camping”.

“I received a message from a firefighter saying ‘we are sorry'”, declared the director of the gutted site of “Camping de la Dune”, Franck Couderc, on BFM television.

The remains of a burned campsite near the Dune du Pilat.
The remains of a burned campsite near the Dune du Pilat. Philippe LOPEZAFP

“They shouldn’t be sorry. It’s amazing what they’ve done,” he said.

The local zoo has begun evacuating its animals who risk inhaling the smoke, with 363 out of 850 already sent in a special convoy to a facility near Bordeaux.

However, a dozen animals succumbed to stress and heat, the national environment ministry said.

The whole area around the Dune du Pilat is home to tourists during the summer months who are drawn to the nearby Bassin d’Arcachon, the surfing beaches to the south or the upscale Cap Ferret district with its five-star hotels.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Patrick Davet, the mayor of La Teste-de-Buch.