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French blazes kill 3 firefighters

Firefighting plane drops water on forest blaze in southern France.

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Jacques Chirac

TOULON, France (Reuters) -- Three firefighters have died in raging forest blazes near the Riviera resort of St. Tropez as more than 1,000 of their colleagues battled to contain the latest fires to hit France's southern coast this summer.

The blaze on Monday trapped the firefighters, one professional and two volunteers, inside their vehicle and they burned to death, the local prefecture said.

Another firefighter was seriously injured overnight after being hit by an emergency vehicle.

The fight to control the fires resumed on Tuesday, with military reinforcements put on alert and water-carrying aircraft set to douse the blazing woodland. The latest fires covered 4,500 hectares (11,100 acres) of forest.

President Jacques Chirac expressed his sadness at the deaths of the firefighters.

"Faced with this tragedy, which affects all French people, I express my deep sadness, my sympathy and my support to their families and those close to them," Chirac said in a statement.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Monday that a total of 54,000 hectares (133,500 acres) of land had been destroyed by fire since the start of what has been one of the driest years in decades.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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