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50-year recovery for French forest

By CNN's Charles Froggatt

Forest fire near Sainte-Maxime, France
Firefighters tackle a blaze outside Sainte-Maxime, southern France.

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FREIBURG, Germany -- Forest land around the French Riviera could take more than 50 years to recover after fires incinerated 8,000 hectares of the Var region, conservationists warn.

Providing the area does not suffer further, the charred land could eventually regain the natural beauty that has made it such a tourist attraction -- but this will take at least half a century, says Professor Johann Goldammer, director of Global Fire Monitoring Center, based in Freiburg, Germany.

For the forests to grow back, the area just north of the Mediterranean coast must avoid the nutrient stripping floods and summer fires that are becoming more common in the area because of the region's volatile climate, he told CNN.

"Instead of a forest, it could become a secondary shrub," said Goldammer.

"It could take more than 50 years for the landscape to get back to the way it is now," added Evon Duche of France's forestry office.

Last week's fires killed four tourists and forced thousands to evacuate. About 2,000 firefighters were used to keep the flames back. (Full story)

Thousands of wild animals also died in the forests, which had 200-year old pines and oaks.

Goldammer said some of the animals that perished would have run back into the flames for fear of confronting humans.

Investigators suspect the fire was started by an arsonist. But some analysts say the planting of thousands of pine trees contributed to the disaster.

They say the trees dry out quickly, making the scenic woodlands especially vulnerable.

However, Goldammer believes that these fires are normal and last week's was not even "large-scale."

He says 500 million hectares of forests and brush fall victim to fires worldwide every year, including 22 million in Russia.

Such fires are part of the planet's natural cycle, and that the Mediterranean region is no different, he adds.


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