We’re back in France. It’s hot. Very hot. Humid too. And yesterday we returned Emily to Barcelona, the city she now considers home. Barcelona was very hot indeed, 38.5 degrees Centigrade actually, which is 101.3 Fahrenheit in old money.
To get to Spain we crossed the Pyrénées where, for the past month or so, fires caused by the extreme dry conditions have been fairly out of control: mainly in Spanish Catalonia, but spreading through to the Catalan area of France too.
Now though, there are fires near L’Hospitalet-près-l’Andorre. This little commune is by way of being a frontier settlement between France, Spain and Andorra. It’s unaccustomed to being newsworthy outside the pages of tourist brochures aimed at those wanting mountain scenery and an energetic walking holiday.
We knew that so far, and thankfully, no human settlements are at risk from the fires. We knew too that all the walkers’ footpaths have been closed and so have the refuges, which offer basic accommodation and food to roughie-toughie hikers miles from normal civilisation. We’d heard that more than 25 tourists had been evacuated from deep in the area some days before. We didn’t expect to see from the road evidence of these fires, which have burnt and ravaged over 400 hectares of the countryside.
But as we approached the village, traffic slowed. Bit by bit, we snaked up the mountain road which, as it turned out, had been reduced to a single carriageway. A lay-by outside l’Hospitalet has been commandeered and enlarged by the army and fire services to provide a heli-port. The fires are in thickly forested areas some 2400 metres high, and inaccessible to land-based fire-fighters. Trackers (air-borne fire-engines) have come from Carcassonne, and scoop some of the water they need to quench the flames from our nearby reservoir here at Montbel. Expertise and equipment have been borrowed from other areas of southern France, and both army and fire service are on duty 24 hours a day.
Seeing some helicopters temporarily at rest together with their crews, brought home to us the real dangers of fighting these fires: they obstinately refuse to submit to man’s control in isolated and largely unreachable forests. It was only on our journey home that we noticed, high above us, several fires at altitude, burning the trees and vegetation. It may be a long time before the fire-fighters can go home, certain in the knowledge that this round of drought-induced danger to man and wildlife is really over. The rain promised this weekend should help.
My photos, by the way, are pretty poor. This is because they were taken from a moving car