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1965: Riviera fires force campers to flee

VIDEO : Fires rip through Riviera holiday camp

Thousands of British campers on holiday in the south of France have been forced to abandon their tents when forest fires threatened to engulf them.

At least 7,000 people, mostly holidaymakers, spent a sleepless night on the beach as fires swept the hills between the Provence resorts of Hyeres and St Tropez.

Narrow roads were clogged with cars trying to make their escape from the hills to the safety of the coast. There they were rescued by pleasure boats, steamers and four minesweepers requisitioned by the French authorities.

Most of the campers lost all their equipment and some no longer have their passports or money.

"People were kneeling on the sand praying and children were crying"

British holidaymaker

Mr Barnott from Hampstead in London told The Times newspaper of his escape to the beach from the Camp du Domaine site last night.

"The whole area was thick with smoke. We had to go to the water's edge to breathe and we put wet towels round our heads. People were kneeling on the sand praying and children were crying," he said.

The fire brigade chief at Le Lavandou has made assurances that there was no "further danger to life".

But last night two elderly residents of Borme-les-Mimosas died just yards from their home, overcome by smoke as they were trying to run from the flames.

Fire brigades and volunteers from all over the region are helping 1,000 troops and hundreds of gendarmes to control the fires with the aid of a dozen helicopters and Catalina "water bomber" aircraft.

But the hot wind known as the "mistral" is fanning the flames and making their job very difficult.

Forests devastated

The blazes have destroyed farmland, campsites, villas and more than 30 square miles (77 sq kms) of forest land that could take years to recover.

Forest fires occur every summer in this part of France - usually as a result of arson or carelessly discarded cigarette ends, or a combination of the two.

But this year has been described as one of the most savage in the region's history. Now local residents are demanding serious action from the government to tackle the problem.

In Context
It was another two days before the fires were finally brought under control.

But it was too late for the thousands of British campers who decided to cut short their holiday after returning to their sites to find total devastation.

On 16 August the minister of agriculture, Edgard Pisani, visited the stricken region and announced he would press for various measures to prevent forest fires.

They included the provision of fire-breaks and walls to contain blazes, special fire-watchers in vulnerable dry areas, more water storage facilities on the roadsides and tougher penalties for those caught discarding cigarette ends.

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