In a usual July on Europe’s biggest sand dune, holidaymakers clamber to its peak to admire the panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean beyond. This year, its heights are deserted, shrouded in smoke, with fire service planes buzzing overhead.
The Dune de Pilat is a famous attraction on France’s west coast, with its sands rising abruptly out of thick pine forests that shade bustling camp sites and caravan parks in the summer months.
This year, the forests are ablaze, sending up thick clouds of smoke that blot out the sun as they drift over the ocean or towards the city of Bordeaux, 60 kilometres (36 miles) to the north east.
Around 6,500 hectares of forest have burned so far near the dune — an area 12 km long and 7.0 km wide — with another 12,800 hectares lost to a separate and bigger fire further inland to the east.
“We were faced with a wall of fire that was 40-50 metres high. It was a tinderbox,” fire service spokesman Matthieu Jomain told AFP on Tuesday from a blackened area next to the dune.
“There were sparks being carried several hundred metres by the wind,” he added.
Around 2,000 firefighters are battling round the clock to bring the infernos under control, backed by helicopters and Canadair fire planes which swoop down into the ocean to fill their tanks.