A huge fire has destroyed large swathes of a refugee camp in northern France following violent clashes that injured several people there, local firefighters and officials say.
According to firefighters, at least 10 people were wounded in the Monday night blaze that ripped through the Grande-Synthe refugee camp near the northern city of Dunkirk.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from the camp, which was home to between 1,000 and 1,500 refugees living in around 300 closely-packed wooden huts, humanitarian groups at the site said.
“There is nothing left but a heap of ashes. It will be impossible to put the huts back where they were before,” said prefect of France’s Nord region, Michel Lalande, who was at the site.
He added that the fire had apparently started deliberately.
A large plume of smoke rose from the camp into the night sky and was visible from several kilometers away.
“Many of the cabins have burned down or are still on fire, more than half the camp has been destroyed,” said a spokesman at the prefect’s office, adding that 165 people had already been transferred to nearby makeshift shelters as the blaze continued to rage in the early hours of Tuesday.
According to reports, the fire broke out after riot police intervened following reported skirmishes among refugees in the camp that injured some six people.
One of the injured refugees was reportedly knocked over by a vehicle on a highway outside the camp and is in critical condition.
The population of the Grande-Synthe camp has swelled since the destruction of the notorious Calais refugee, located nearly 40 kilometers away, last October.
Grande-Synthe, also called the Liniere camp, is on the road between Dunkirk and Calais. Most of the refugees there are fleeing violence in North Africa and the Middle East. Its population has further grown recently with a surge of arrivals from Afghanistan.
Several violent incidents have been reported at the camp in recent months.
French authorities announced in mid-March that security forces were planning to start dismantling the camp following clashes at the site.
For more than a decade, France’s northern coast has been a focal point for refugees seeking to reach the UK, with French authorities repeatedly tearing down camps in the region.