Raging fires threaten French villages near Marseille

MARSEILLE, France (AP) " Multiple fires whipped by high winds were ravaging sites in southern France on Wednesday, moving from village to village and creeping toward the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

Hundreds of children and adults were evacuated from recreation centers and homes in the town of Vitrolles, about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north of Marseille where some homes were burned down, and in nearby Pennes-Mirabeau. The Marseille airport said it was rerouting incoming flights to make way for firefighting aircraft, while officials in the city were bracing for flames that risked lapping at its doors.

"The fire is progressing. It's progressing fast," Deputy Marseille 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 neighborhoods of Marseille."

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

Two people were reported injured, one seriously as the fire marched southward, firefighters said, and 20 to 25 homes were burned. At least 2,700 hectares (6,670 acres) of land were devastated.

"The situation is out of control. The fire is extremely powerful, fast, explosive, and continues burning everything in its path," firefighters said in a statement from a temporary headquarters set up in Vitrolles.

Four firefighters were injured, three seriously, battling a blaze in the nearby Herault region, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said. That fire " and a fire in an industrial area outside Marseille that stocks oil and petrochemicals " were contained while the 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 traveled to France's second largest city.

The minister said 1,800 firefighters were mobilized to fight the blazes. Some 400 police officers were helping towns secure homes and firefighting aircraft, from Canadairs to Trackers, were mobilized.

The largest fire was burning in the Rognac area, spreading southward to Vitrolles, Pennes-Mirabeau and Cabries. 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 neighbors, it's the same ... Everything has been razed, everything is black, deserted."

Thick ochre-colored smoke could be seen from Marseille, while black plumes rose above Vitrolles and Pennes-Mirabeau.

"The fire is entering the village," Pennes-Mirabeau Mayor Michel Amiel said on BFM-TV.

The potentially most sensitive fire ravaged hectares around Fos-Sur-Mer, which includes a vast industrial zone about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of Marseille, but the prefecture of the Bouches-du-Rhone region said late Wednesday it was no longer gaining ground. At least 20 vehicles and camping vans were destroyed there.

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Ganley reported from Paris.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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