“I was born here, I had never experienced this. It’s the apocalypse”, sighs Jean-Luc Labadie, 53, who is one of the 8,000 evacuees authorized Sunday afternoon to return to their homes.
During the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the fire had approached 50 meters from his house, which he left with the gendarmes “death in the soul”.
When he left, he had left his gate open to allow the firefighters access to the pine forest.
“They did a great job. We are doing well, we didn’t have any damage. Not everyone was so lucky,” he explains.
In this town of 5,700 inhabitants, nine homes and eight outbuildings were destroyed by the flames, according to the mayor, Cyrille Declercq.
The return of the rain allowed the prefecture on Sunday to declare “fixed” this fire nicknamed “Landiras 2”, which ravaged 7,400 hectares of forest, and to allow all the evacuees from the department to return home.
In the center of Belin-Béliet, the shutters gradually reopened on Monday morning and the inhabitants returned to their habits on the café terrace, despite the smell of burnt wood.
“I came back as soon as I could. But seeing the damage is terrible, it’s a blow. Next to my house, there is a house of which only the walls remain”, says Jean-Pierre Pichon, 52, seated at the bar-tabac.
– “We risk cracking” –
A little further, on the edge of the town, the house of François Prioleau, 75, seems miraculous, surrounded by charred pines from which some smoke still escapes.
In front of his door, a generator hums: the electricity has been cut off and he doesn’t know “when it will come back”.
Her neighbor across the street, Claudine Gosse, “fell tired” after returning home late at night.
“I was afraid of losing my house. We tell ourselves that it’s over. We think of everything we would have liked to take, of the children’s photo albums”, relates the 59-year-old nurse, from a still trembling voice.
Jean-Luc Labadie, he spent the week watching his video surveillance cameras. Round trips of the firefighters, rounds of the gendarmes: nothing escaped him.
“As long as it was spinning, that meant they weren’t in ash,” he smiles.
His house has remained immaculate but behind it, a few meters away, the forest floor is black, dotted with charred pine cones and a few fallen trunks.
“This landscape is desolate. For the moment, we are relieved to return. But in a few days, we risk breaking down,” adds Jean-Luc Labadie.
– Prudence –
Life also resumed on Monday morning in Saint-Magne, the starting point of the fire, about ten kilometers from Belin-Béliet.
The inhabitants of the town had been evacuated on Tuesday for the second time this summer, after the Landiras fire in mid-July.
“At first, I didn’t want to leave. But my daughter was very worried, she told me she would call the police. I’m not a rebel, but at my age, it’s hard on morale,” blows Jean-Claude Fourcade, 82 years old.
The director of the Gironde fire brigade, Marc Vermeulen, called on the evacuees on Sunday to show “the greatest caution”, recalling that “fixed fire does not mean fire extinguished”.
If the rain has moistened the surface of the ground, the earth continues to burn in places “at 20 or 30 centimeters deep”, details Commander Matthieu Jomain, spokesman for the firefighters.
The forest massif remains closed to the public throughout the department until further notice.