Thousands evacuated as fires rage near French Riviera
LES ISSAMBRES, France (AFP) Jul 18, 2003
Over 9,000 people had to flee their homes in hills behind France's picturesque Mediterranean coast overnight as two forest fires spread over a large area of countryside, rescue officials said Friday.

Apart from a firefighter with light burns, there were no reports of casualties.

The biggest blaze consumed some 9,000 hectares (22,500 acres) of brush and pine woods in the Maures hills behind Saint-Raphael in the Var region, one of the country's premier tourist destinations.

Rescue officials said several dozen vehicles and a number of bungalows were destroyed in the blaze, which was the biggest forest fire in the Var department since 1990.

Fanned by strong winds, the fire advanced overnight on a 20 kilometremile) line to the coastal towns of Issambres and Saint Aygulf, but by Friday morning rescue workers were hopeful it had run its course.

Some 1,300 firefighters from across the region were working to stop the blaze, aided by helicopters and water-dropping planes. Most of the 8,000 people who were evacuated were tourists based in campsites.

Further to the west in the neighbouring department, or administrative region, of Alpes de Haute Provence, some 1,100 people had to be evacuated due to a fire in the rugged Verdon region.

Over 400 firefighters were trying to stop the fire, and one had to be hospitalized with light burns.

Rescue officials said the Verdon blaze had spread over 900 hectaresacres) and crossed into the Var area, but officials said it appeared to be slowing down Friday morning as the wind was dropping.

Residents and campers were evacuated from the village of Esparron-de-Verdon, and parts of the town of Saint-Laurent-de-Verdon, as a precautionary measure.

The fires came after a spell of unusually hot weather across France, which has put forest wardens on a state of high alert.

Earlier this week five people were killed -- including two foreign tourists -- in a series of violent storms that broke across the western and southern part of the country.