Forest fires in France: Europe reels as repeated heat waves cause chaos

Forest fires in France: Europe reels as repeated heat waves cause chaos
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After days of fighting, French firefighters noted the first signs of a slowdown among the fires in the southwestern Gironde region on Thursday afternoon.

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

However, the situation remains challenging, officials said. The Gironde fires had burned 7,400 hectares of forest by Thursday afternoon and 10,000 people have been evacuated from the area. The fire has a perimeter of 40 kilometers, which requires a lot of manpower to cover it, according to Martin Guesperau, deputy commissioner of defense and security of the prefecture of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

On Thursday, France activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism that allows other EU member states to divert their resources to the country.

The first group of German firefighters have already arrived on the scene and the 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.

Two firefighting planes from Italy are also scheduled to arrive on Friday, in addition to the four planes sent today from Greece and Sweden, Guesperau added.

“Today we fully benefit from European solidarity,” French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told reporters Thursday during a visit to the town of Hostens, which is at the heart of the Gironde fires.

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

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

Forest fires in France have been especially violent this summer, burning through the southern and southwestern parts of the country and also breaking out in the Normandy and Brittany regions, further north than usual.

Fires have burned 41,400 hectares in France since June 10, a big increase compared to the 2,040 hectares lost in the same period last year, the press office of the French Interior Ministry’s civil security department told CNN.

Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom also suffer

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

The drought has meant that the ground has been unable to absorb rain in recent storms, leading to flooding and mudslides, according to Coldretti.

The hail was “the most serious climatic event due to the irreversible damage it caused to crops,” the association said, adding that “in a few minutes it is capable of destroying a whole year’s work.”

Embalse de La Viñuela near Malaga, southern Spain, photographed on August 8.

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

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Spain’s national weather agency AEMET has warned of high temperatures across Spain as the heat wave continues on the peninsula.

Heat advisories are in effect in several parts of the country for Thursday, with the highest concentration of affected communities in the northeastern regions of Spain near the border with France.

Temperatures are expected to rise to 40C, according to AEMET.

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Most of the country is covered by heat warnings for Friday with maximum temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius expected in the north-east and south of Spain.

The UK is also suffering through another week of high temperatures, with the London Fire Brigade on Thursday describing the British capital as “a dry tinderbox” as firefighters battle an “unprecedented” rise in grass fires in the city. city ​​this summer.

Firefighters tackled 340 grass, trash and open land fires in the first week of August, compared to 42 fires in the same week last year, an eightfold increase, the Brigade said in a statement.

The Fire Chief asked Londoners not to barbecue outdoors or on balconies, to dispose of rubbish safely and to put out cigarettes properly.

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

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

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

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