Wildfires and floods seem to be everywhere in the news at the moment. Yesterday a huge fire swept through 850 hectares of forest from Moux on the D61, between Narbonne and Carcassonne. It was clearly visible from Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois too.
Three weeks ago, wildfire destroyed 250 hectares of shrubbery in the dunes at La Clape near Narbonne Beach. A hectare is an area of 100 by 100 metres. That means that an area equivalent to 350 football pitches was destroyed, a bitter blow for local tourism at the height of the holiday season and at the end of the Covid-19 lockdown.
From the roof terrace at Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois, we could clearly see the smoke rising to the left of us. Canadair planes and helicopters were used to drop water onto the wildfires.
That fire, however, proved to be relatively minor compared to the wildfire that broke out along the D61 motorway near Moux this Saturday. The D61 runs between Narbonne and Carcassonne, south of Lézignan-Corbières. Moux is 21 km (13 miles) from us.
The cause of the fire has not yet been established. But eyewitnesses have described that a small fire started on the central reservation of the motorway around 1pm and was able to cross the road due to strong gusts of wind.
That would suggest that the cause may have been a driver flicking a cigarette butt out of a car window. Investigations into other fires have established that hundreds of incidents were started in this way. Camp fires and barbecues are also high on the list of sources of devastating destruction of nature reserves.
The region has been experiencing a drought. Dry vegetation on the hills along the motorway quickly caught fire. The wind rapidly moved it up the hills and onwards to the east.
By this time, huge plumes of dark smoke were clearly visible from the roof of Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois, this time towards the right.
In the hours that ensued, the wildfires swept through hundreds of hectares of pine forest. Fire fighters from Aude and surrounding regions battled the fire, helped by an air fleet of Canadairs and other planes and helicopters dropping water and fire retardant onto the flames.
The planes could be seen flying to and the coast at Bages, where they took in water. This is near Narbonne, to the left of us. This was then taken to the fire to the right of us. Although we never saw flames, it was distressing to watch the smoke spreading to an ever-wider area.
The planes were hindered by overhead power cables. At one point, a decision was taken to switch of power supply. This left large parts of the south of France without power, as well as regions of Spain and even Portugal. France provides ‘green energy’, supplied by wind turbines and solar power, to clients across Europe.
Eventually it became too dark for the planes to continue their missions. By that point the French Interior Minister told Twitter that a total of 152 flights had been carried out.
Almost 1,000 fire fighters and rescuers had been mobilised to work throughout the night. They reported a tough fight against the rapidly-moving flames through densely forested, steep hills and with strong gusts of wind.
Local village halls near the fire had been turned into resting stations for the exhausted emergency services. Locals were asked to donate bread, cheese, ham and such.
In the morning, the fire had destroyed an area of 850 hectares or 8.5 million square metres – equivalent to 1,200 football pitches. The fire had not been brought under control yet, but the flames were not spreading any further.
The nearby towns of Fabrezan and Fontcouverte had been saved from the flames. There were no reported injuries and only minor damage to a roof and vehicle.