Tuesday, the brilliant blue sky stands out near the Dune du Pilat, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. The day before, the highest dune in Europe was capped with a huge plume of black and gray smoke: the forest was burning in this sector and the five campsites located below did not escape.
At the “Flots Bleus”, or camping de la Dune as it was called before being made famous by the three films of Fabien Onteniente with Franck Dubosc in the main role, the metal entrance arch, the reception, the convenience store selling memorabilia from the films and the food court along the road are relatively intact.
A little further on, the performance hall with its vahine decor, its red curtain and its floor of empty chairs await holidaymakers, who were evacuated as a preventive measure on the night of July 13.
But past the entrance area, all around, there are only ashes and smoke, heaps of sheet metal, gutted bungalows and charred tree trunks. A pungent smell stings the nose. Beside charred vehicles, castings of molten aluminum still hot.
Not far away, the sanitary building is devastated and flames come out of a city gas pipe outside.
“Patrick is crying”, reacted on Twitter actor Franck Dubosc, who plays Patrick Chirac, whose lively and colorful vacation at the foot of the Pilat dune attracted nearly 13 million spectators in cinemas.
– “A powder keg” –
At least four bungalows and a few tents survived. Personal effects, probably left by evacuated campers, litter the ground. There a pair of tap shoes, here sandals.
At the foot of the dune, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a piece of gas canister that exploded the day before.
In the sky, Canadairs having refueled in the ocean fly over the campsites to drop further into the pine forest where smoke still veils the sky.
“Everything that should have burned has burned. Now what interests us is to avoid any resumption of fire in the massif”, underlines Commander Matthieu Jomain, spokesman for the fire brigade.
Around the visitor car park of the Dune du Pilat, preserved from the blaze, flames come out of pieces of charred trunks that have fallen to the ground and blackened sand still comes out of the fumaroles.
“Sometimes the fire has passed so quickly that not all the vegetation has burned, but it remains completely dry”, notes Commander Sébastien Castel, of the Gironde firefighters.
In another campsite in the sector, La Forêt, the destruction is even clearer. Nothing is left. Amid the heaps of bricks of the collapsed walls, only a few rare soda cans remained intact in a completely charred dispenser. Bikes in rows of onions are nothing more than a pile of scrap metal.
The bark of long pines is completely charred to their tops.
“We were simply faced with a 40, 50 meter wall of flames,” says Mr. Jomain. “It was a powder keg. There were projections of incandescent particles pushed by the wind several hundred meters.”
“Despite two protective actions, the fire passed” all the same, he describes, very close to the swimming pool with the now greenish water. “There is a part of frustration but, fortunately, the human toll is virgin”.
“With my wife, we lost everything. Losing his job and his place of life, that’s a lot”, confided to AFP the manager of the campsite, Franck Couderc, who nevertheless underlines in a weary voice that “the holidaymakers who pass by will always be able to take their picture with (the cardboard silhouette of) Patrick”.