French firefighters in good spirits despite fatigue

STORY: As of Thursday (July 21), nearly 21,000 hectares have been set ablaze and reduced to cinders in the southwestern department of Gironde since July 12, according to the local prefecture. The pace of the fires’ progression has slowed, authorities said.

The blazes, which have been widely considered as one of the biggest in French history, have displaced nearly 37,000 people. Authorities have reopened some sectors affected by the fires, allowing 2,500 to move back to their homes on Thursday (July 21) night.

On Friday, local firefighter deputy chief Arnaud Miraben scraped the ground with a rake to check forest soil, black with ashes, for underground embers, which can burn up to 80 centimeters deep into the soil, to prevent the risk of a rekindling of the flames.

"We're fine. As long as we have a bit of fire, it keeps us in shape," he said, laughing despite the fatigue.

A total of 13,800 hectares have been scorched in the area around the town of Landiras, while a second blaze in La Teste-de-Buch, near Europe’s tallest sand dune, the Dune du Pilat, has burned 7,000 hectares.

Nearly 2,000 firefighters have been mobilized in the department to contain the flames.

“The fire has a big front line that we have to fight… We're a bit used to it, but it's still physically gruelling," firefighter lieutenant Germain Coste said.

“But it's a passion - we're willing to do this, it's a passion," Coste added, all smiles.

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