Arsonists have been blamed by French officials for wildfires on the Riviera that have forced thousands of residents and holidaymakers to flee to emergency shelters.

Prime minister Édouard Philippe was last night visiting the scene of the fire, which started on open ground beside a caravan site.

Renaud Muselier, president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, said that the blaze was “without doubt of criminal origin”.

He added: “This is a disaster for the Var département [in Provence]. We are going to do everything to find the people responsible for this fire.”

Hundreds of Britons are thought to be in the affected area and many reported being evacuated yesterday with little idea of whether their insurance would cover the disruption.

Firefighters were at full stretch protecting houses and hamlets, sometimes stopping the blaze a few metres from homes as the flames swept towards the resort of Bormes-les-Mimosas, 20 miles from Saint Tropez.

Emergency workers warned people to leave campsites and other lodgings and escorted more than 10,000 to gymnasiums and other centres at the resort.

No injuries were reported but at least two houses were destroyed.

The outbreak followed a dozen others this week that have ravaged a total of 10,000 hectares along the Mediterranean coast, in the Provence region of Luberon, the Maritime Alps and northern Corsica.

After a fire raged near Ramatuelle, a few miles from Saint Tropez, on Tuesday, actress Joan Collins said that she had abandoned her house near the port.

She added that the fire there was believed to have been started by a barbecue, The Times reported.

Catherine Huraut, deputy mayor of La Croix-Valmer, where another fire broke out on Tuesday, said that losing the distinctive pines was the local equivalent of Paris losing the Eiffel Tower.

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