fires in Gironde, thousands of people evacuated and various fortunes

Wednesday July 13. Manon Chabiron, 25, gave birth to her first child at the Arcachon maternity ward, while the fire had been spreading for 24 hours already in the La Teste-de-Buch sector, threatening her home in Cazaux, not far from the Pilat dune. As the birth became clearer, the hope of being able to return home with the new-born child receded. “You are living the most beautiful thing in the world and outside it is chaos, everything goes up in smoke”, says the young woman, now staying with her parents in the neighboring town of Teich. Six days and six nights have passed since Noa was born. A few flakes of ash in her tied brown hair, Manon fears a new evacuation: « There I will not know where to go, my whole family is on the Basin ».

In suffocating heat, with 42.4°C recorded in Cazaux, 16,000 people had to pack their bags urgently on Monday July 18 across the department. “As many people as in the previous six days”, declared the prefect of Gironde Fabienne Buccio who thus counted a total of around 32,000 preventive evacuations to escape the fires on the two fronts of Teste-de-Buch and Landiras, in the south of the Gironde. 17,000 hectares of forest have been ravaged by the flames to date in the sector.

Isolated elderly people, subject to closer vigilance

Not all the displaced have had the chance to be taken in by relatives. At the Parc des expositions de La Teste-de-Buch, in thick fog, evacuees arrived in dribs and drabs, alone or accompanied, immediately taken care of by volunteers – municipal employees and elected officials, volunteers from the Red Cross and doctors. Camp beds are unfolded, bottles of water distributed to prevent dehydration, kibble given to pets.

In the entrance to this oven, under her blouse, Doctor Laure Casamayou receives the latest arrivals. “Resident families and vacationers are only passing through”notes the practitioner who asks about isolated elderly people, prostrate in their chairs. “Housekeepers and carers bring us bedridden, sometimes recalcitrant people”observes the general practitioner, deprived of her office in Cazaux, who organizes regular convoys to supply medicines to patients in need of treatment.

« You don’t have anyone else around who can welcome you for the night? ». Haunting question, often unanswered. William Bonnin, 76, is lucky to be able to count on the presence of his daughter a few kilometers away, in the town of Gujan-Mestras. But when the family is lacking, accommodation solutions are found by the municipal center for social action (CCAS) and accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people (Ehpad).

On the front line, Murielle Tesseraud, employee of the CCAS, also lists the accommodation places offered by individuals. “We have to manage the panic of some evacuees, the sometimes nervous breakdowns, but with the Covid and the war in Ukraine, we are starting to have some control over crisis situations”, reports the one who can also rely on a psychological cell to soothe people in a state of acute stress. At the other end of the park, pets in distress pass through the hands of veterinary doctor Cristina Giampieretti. “The animals arrive dehydrated but it is above all their masters who need to be reassured”she remarks.

Headwinds, a puzzle

Shortly before midnight, wisps of smoke engulfed the enclosure in large whirlwinds. In the car park, the ballet of ambulances follows the ballet of Canadair trying to overcome the blazes that have reached the edge of the ocean south of La Teste-de-Buch. Evacuation as a preventive measure has been initiated in the Miquelots and Pyla-sur-Mer districts, but also in the business area adjacent to the Exhibition Centre.

While Murielle and her colleagues were thinking of taking a break, nearly a hundred people entered the hall. Among them, Yvonne and Christian Gaye, a couple in their eighties living in the Miquelots district. It was Christian who had to take over the management of operations. “He insisted on leaving the house when we could have stayed inside, well caulked”, breathes Yvonne. He resumes: « You can’t imagine. The tide was turning”. The rest, they ignore it. Perhaps they will go to their daughter in Blanquefort, north of Bordeaux.

From her baby’s room, in La Teste, Sabrina Pereira also quickly realized that the tide had turned. « We had 20 minutes to gather the bare necessities », testifies the young mother. Tonight, her 13-month-old daughter Cataleya is getting ready to spend her first night at the Parc des Expositions. Neither the sky crimsoned with smoke which encumbers the night, nor the declarations of the prefect who announced « a hard night » for the 1,700 firefighters mobilized in Gironde due to the swirling winds do not invite optimism. The only satisfaction of this dark day, which will have seen 5,000 hectares of forest on the side of La Teste and six campsites go up in smoke, at the foot of the Dune du Pilat: still no casualties are to be deplored.


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