Forest fires in France: Europe’s recurring heatwaves cause chaos

Forest fires in France: Europe's recurring heatwaves cause chaos
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After days of fighting, French firefighters saw the first signs of a slowdown in the blazes in the southwestern Gironde region on Thursday afternoon.

“The fire did not grow much, despite the very low humidity and high temperature during the day, especially thanks to the combined action of the tools available,” Gironde fire chief Marc Vermeulen said at a daily press conference.

However, officials said the situation remains difficult. As of Thursday afternoon, the Gironde fires have burned 7,400 hectares of forest and 10,000 people have been evacuated. According to Martin Guesperau, deputy commissioner for defense and security of the prefecture of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, the fire has a perimeter of 40 kilometers and requires a lot of manpower to contain it.

On Thursday, France launched the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, allowing other EU member states to channel their resources into the country.

The first group of German firefighters has already arrived at the scene, and Romanian teams are expected to arrive later tonight. In addition, firefighters from Poland and Austria are expected to arrive on Friday. In total, the four countries will send 361 firefighters and 101 vehicles to help, according to Guesperau.

Guesperau added that two firefighting planes from Italy should arrive on Friday in addition to the four planes sent from Greece and Sweden today.

“Today we are fully benefiting from European solidarity,” French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters on Thursday during a visit to Hostens, the epicenter of the Gironde fires.

More than half of this year’s fires occurred in Gironde.

Irrigation systems in a corn field in Castelnovo Bariano, Italy.

France’s wildfires have been particularly violent this summer, raging in the south and south-west of the country, but also in the Normandy and Brittany regions – further north than typical.

Fires have covered 41,400 hectares in France since June 10, a huge increase compared to 2,040 hectares in the same period last year, according to the press service of the civil security department of the French Interior Ministry.

Italy, Spain and Great Britain are also suffering

In Italy, farmers in some parts of the country have lost 80% of their crops this year due to severe weather anomalies, the Coldretti agricultural association said on Thursday.

According to Coldretti, the drought means the land has been unable to absorb any rain from recent storms, causing flooding and landslides.

Hail called it “the most serious climate event in terms of the irreversible damage it causes to the land”, adding that “in a few minutes it can destroy an entire year’s work”.

La Vinuela reservoir near Malaga in southern Spain on August 8.

The farmers’ association estimates that the damage, equivalent to 10% of Italy’s annual agricultural production, will exceed 6 billion euros ($6.2 billion).

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Spain’s national meteorological agency AEMET has warned of high temperatures in Spain as a heatwave continues across the peninsula.

Heat warnings were issued across the country on Thursday, with the highest concentration of affected communities in northeastern Spain near the border with France.

According to AEMET, the temperature is expected to rise to 40 degrees.

European cities have set all-time temperature records amid a relentless heat wave
The heat threatens the European economy, which is on the brink

Most of the country is covered by a heat warning on Friday, with maximum temperatures expected to exceed 40 degrees Celsius in north-east and south Spain.

Britain is suffering another week of high temperatures, with the London Fire Brigade describing the British capital as “dry dry” on Thursday as firefighters battled an “unprecedented” rise in grass fires in the city this summer.

Firefighters battled 340 grass, trash and open ground fires in the first week of August, an eight-fold increase from 42 fires in the same week last year, the brigade said in a statement.

The fire chief has asked Londoners not to have barbecues outdoors or on balconies, to dispose of rubbish safely and to put out cigarettes properly.

The UK Met Office issued an “amber extreme heat warning” for parts of England and Wales on Tuesday. The warning is in effect from Thursday to Sunday, with “possible impacts on health transport and infrastructure”.

Temperatures are expected to peak on Friday and Saturday, with “likely” low to mid 30s Celsius (86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the statement.

CNN’s Pierre Bairin, Amandine Hess, Xiaofei Xu, Jorge Engels, Benjamin Brown, Nicola Ruotolo, Arnaud Siad and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this report.

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