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France battles ‘monster’ wildfire as heatwaves scorch Europe

wildfires continue to spread in the gironde region
File photo: Wildfires continue to spread France FDNG/Handout via REUTERS

Firefighters flew to France from across Europe to battle a “monster” wildfire raging for a third day near the wine-growing heartland of Bordeaux on Thursday, with no let-up in blistering temperatures likely before the weekend.

More than 1,000 firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft tried to contain the blaze in the southwestern Gironde region that has forced thousands of people from their homes and scorched 6,800 hectares of forest.

“It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,” Gregory Allione from the French firefighters body FNSPF told RTL radio.

French President Emmanuel Macron said European countries were coming to France’s rescue. Two Greek tanker planes were arriving alongside two Swedish airtractors, 64 firefighters from Germany, 146 from Poland and more from Austria and Romania, his office added.

Wildfires have broken out across Europe this summer as successive heatwaves bake the continent, bring record temperatures and renew focus on climate change risks to industry and livelihoods.

Overnight the darkened skies glowed orange above the burning forests in Gironde, leaving residents to face another anxiety-wracked night as the fire advanced.

Firefighters said they had managed to save the village of Belin-Beliet, transformed into a ghost village after police told residents to evacuate as the flames approached.

In nearby Hostens, Allisson Fayol and her father stayed in their home, their bags packed in case they needed to make a hasty departure.

“There is still a lot of smoke but for now it’s not coming this way,” Fayol said after watching many of her neighbours leave their homes overnight.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was visiting the region.

HEATWAVES, FLOODS, MELTING GLACIERS

Heatwaves, floods and crumbling glaciers have heightened concerns over climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather across the globe.

The head of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, said successive heatwaves, shrinking rivers and rising land temperatures as measured from space left no doubt about the toll on agriculture and other industries from climate change.

“It’s pretty bad. We have seen extremes that have not been observed before,” Aschbacher told Reuters. Read full story

ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite series has measured “extreme” land surface temperatures of more than 45C in Britain, 50C in France and 60C in Spain in recent weeks.

More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System shows.

French authorities said temperatures in the Gironde region would reach 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and stay high until Saturday.

Firefighters warned of an “explosive cocktail” of weather conditions with wind and the tinder-box conditions helping fan the flames.

The Gironde was hit by big wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.

Hostens mayor Jean-Louis Dartiailh described the past weeks as a disaster.

“The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,” he told Radio Classique. “This fire is the final straw.”

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