Firefighters battle to contain ‘monster’ wildfire in southwest France

·3 min read

More than 1,000 firefighters were battling to contain a “monster” wildfire tearing through the southwest of France for a third day on Thursday.

The latest blaze in the Gironde region, close to the wine-growing region around Bordeaux, has so far destroyed nearly 7,000 hectares of forest. It is believed to have started from previous fires that were smouldering in the area’s peaty soil.

Around 10,000 residents have been forced to flee their homes as a precaution, with more than a dozen properties scorched by the flames.

“It’s a disaster, economically, ecologically, it’s awful,” Jean-Louis Dartiailh, the mayor of Hostens, a town near the blaze.

“The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,” he told Radio Classique.

French prime minister Elisabeth Borne and interior minister Gerald Darmanin will visit the area – where temperatures are expected to hit 40C.

“It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,” said Gregory Allione, who works for the firefighting organisation FNSPF.

The authorities have warned that the scorching weather will last until Saturday, as France experiences its fourth heatwave of the year amid a historic drought.

More than 57,200 hectares have been torched by wildfires this year in France, almost six times the yearly average between 2006 and 2021, according to the European Forest Fire Information System.

The rising sun illuminates the smoke of a forest fire near Belin-Beliet (AFP/Getty)
The rising sun illuminates the smoke of a forest fire near Belin-Beliet (AFP/Getty)

Around 20,000 hectares of forest were destroyed in the Gironde by fires last month, making it the worst affected region in the country.

Blazes have also broken out recently in the southern departments of Lozere and Aveyron, as well as the Maine et Loire region in the west of the country.

In July, French president Emmanuel Macron spoke of the rising prevalence of extreme weather events, caused by climate change. “Great fires are accelerating,” he said.

Other parts of Europe have also suffered large-scale wildfires this summer, with firefighters struggling to contain a blaze that has ripped through central Portugal.

The latest Gironde wildfire has lead to the evacuation of thousands of residents (NurPhoto/Shutterstock)
The latest Gironde wildfire has lead to the evacuation of thousands of residents (NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

Spain and Greece have also experienced multiple fires in recent weeks.

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

The 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.

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

A firefighter in Manteigas, central Portugal (AFP/Getty)
A firefighter in Manteigas, central Portugal (AFP/Getty)

In Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters spent a sixth day fighting a wildfire in the central Covilha region that has burnt 10,500 hectares, including parts of the Serra da Estrela national park.

In Spain, electrical storms triggered new wildfires and hundreds of people were evacuated from the path of one blaze in the province of Caceres.

Mr Macron’s office said extra fire-fighting aircraft were arriving from Greece and Sweden, while Germany, Austria, Romania and Poland were all deploying firefighters to help tackle wildfires in France.

“European solidarity at work,” the French president tweeted.

Reuters contributed to this report