Fires in France: Repeated heatwaves wreak havoc in Europe

Fires in France: Repeated heatwaves wreak havoc in Europe
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After days of fighting, French firefighters saw the first signs of a slowdown in the blaze in southwestern Gironde on Thursday afternoon.

“Despite very low humidity and high temperatures, the fire did not grow much during the day, thanks in particular to the combined action of the available means,” Gironde fire chief Marc Vermeulen told a daily news conference.

However, the situation is still challenging, officials said. The Gironde fires had burned 7,400 hectares of forest as of Thursday afternoon and 10,000 people had been evacuated from the area. According to Martin Guesperau, deputy commissioner of defense and security for Nouvelle-Aquitaine prefecture, the fire has a 40-kilometer radius, which requires a lot of manpower to cover.

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

The first teams of German firefighters have already arrived at the scene and Romanian teams are expected to arrive later tonight. Additionally, 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 Guesperu.

Two firefighting plans from Italy are also scheduled to arrive Friday, on top of four plans sent from Greece and Sweden today, Gueseperu added.

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

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

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

Fires in France have been particularly violent this summer, spreading across the south and south-west of the country and also in the regions of Normandy and Brittany – further north than usual.

Fires have burned 41,400 hectares in France since June 10, a huge increase from the 2,040 hectares destroyed in the same period last year, the press office of the civil security department of France’s interior ministry told CNN.

Italy, Spain and the UK are also affected

In Italy, farmers in some parts of the country have lost up to 80% of their crops this year due to severe weather variability, the Coldretti Farming Association said Thursday.

Drought means that the soil hasn’t been able to absorb any rainfall from recent storms, which has led to flooding and landslides, according to Coldretty.

Hail was “the most serious climatic phenomenon due to irreversible damage to crops,” the association said, adding that “within a few minutes, it is capable of destroying an entire year’s work.”

Photo taken Aug. 8 of La Vinuela reservoir near Malaga, southern Spain.

Farmers’ associations estimate that the damage will exceed 6 billion euros ($6.2 billion), equivalent to 10% of Italy’s annual agricultural production.

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

Heat warnings remain in place for parts of the country on Thursday, with the highest concentration of affected communities in the northeastern region of Spain near the border with France.

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

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Most of the country is covered by a heat warning for Friday and the north-east and south of Spain are expected to see highs above 40 degrees Celsius.

As the UK suffers another week of high temperatures, the London Fire Brigade on Thursday described the British capital as “tinderbox dry” as firefighters battled an “unprecedented” increase in grass fires in the city this summer.

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

The fire brigade chief asked Londoners not to barbecue outdoors or on balconies, to dispose of their rubbish safely and to extinguish cigarettes properly.

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

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

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

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