Hundreds evacuated from path of wildfire in southern France

Marseille, Frances second-largest city, in danger as high winds whip the blaze onward and airport reroutes planes to make way for firefighting aircraft

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from homes in the path of wildfires in southern France which are creeping toward the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

Whipped on by high winds, the blaze has destroyed homes in the town of Vitrolles, about 25km (15.5 miles) north of Marseille, and in nearby Pennes-Mirabeau. A spokesperson for Marseille airport said on Wednesday that it was rerouting incoming flights to make way for firefighting aircraft.

The fire is progressing. Its progressing fast, Marseilles deputy mayor, Julien Ruas, said on BFM-TV. He said the city was setting up firewalls on the corridor leading toward it but if the fire passes those it will move toward the northern neighbourhoods of Marseille.

He called the size of the fire absolutely exceptional and advised people to stay off the roads.

Four firefighters were injured, three seriously, battling a blaze in the nearby Herault region, according to Frances interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. That fire and a fire in an industrial area outside Marseille that stocks oil and petrochemicals were contained while other blazes raged north of Marseille and moved southward.

The goal is to contain the fires to avoid them reaching towns, notably Marseille, Cazeneuve said as he travelled to Frances second largest city.

The minister said 1,800 firefighters had been mobilised to fight blazes that have destroyed more than 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres) of land, including some homes. Around 400 police officers were helping towns secure homes and firefighting aircraft, including Canadairs and Trackers, were mobilised.

The largest fire was burning in the Rognac area, spreading southward to Vitrolles, Pennes-Mirabeau and Cabris. High winds blew flames through the dense brush of the southern backcountry, dry from a summer season with little rain.

Everything burned, the house, the car; there is nothing left, a distressed resident of Vitrolles, identified only as Sylvestre, told BFM-TV. My neighbours, its the same. Everything has been razed, everything is black, deserted.

Thick smoke could be seen from Marseille, while black plumes rose above Vitrolles and Pennes-Mirabeau. The fire is entering the village, Pennes-Mirabeaus mayor, Michel Amiel, said on BFM-TV.

Fire ravaged land around Fos-Sur-Mer, which includes a vast industrial zone about 40km north-west of Marseille. But a spokesperson for the prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone region said late on Wednesday that the blaze was no longer gaining ground. At least 20 vehicles and camping vans were destroyed there.

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