Scorched southwestern France braces for fires to come

STORY: This is what remains of a forest outside the town of Hostens, in southwestern France.

A wildfire erupted here in July 2022.

Eight months later the land still smoulders away underground, caused by the brown coal in the area's peaty soil.

"We have to make sure that fires can't start again from these hot spots."

The blaze at Hostens is a remnant of huge wildfires that ravaged southern Europe in summer 2022.

Worst drought on record was compounded by successive heatwaves which scientists say are consistent with climate change.

The Gironde region in southwest of France was particularly badly hit with more than 49,000 acres of forest destroyed.

And the risk of renewed fires is a great concern.

Guillaume Carnir works for France’s National Forest Agency.

"The risks, now that everything is exploited around it, are minimized because there is less flammable material all around, on the massif, as there are large areas that have been cut down. But there are still some green patches and there is all the vegetation that will come back in the spring which will be flammable."

The fire in Hostens is under constant surveillance from drones measuring heat levels.

That's according to Pascale Got, a local official in charge of environmental protection.

"We are now coming to a period where spring fires can break out. So obviously we need an urgent response from the government on aerial assets and we can no longer sail by sight."

An unusually dry winter across parts of southern Europe has reduced moisture in the soil.

It raises fears of a repeat of 2022, when almost 2 million acres of land were destroyed.

That's according to European Commission statistics.

Governments are, therefore, working out how to make forests and woodlands more resilient to climate change.

Over in Gironde, the wildfires that surrounded the town of Origne and displaced its inhabitants last July are long extinguished.

But Mayor Vincent Dedieu could not hide his sadness while looking at the wide empty land.

"Today, we have lost all our landmarks because today, you see, it's completely lunar. We're in this somewhat deserted landscape. I said it before: we'll have the shock of burnt trees but we'll also have the shock when the trees are gone."