France wildfires: Europe reels as repeated heatwaves cause chaos

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After days of battles, French firefighters observed the first signs of a slow down among fires in the southwestern region of Gironde on Thursday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

Two firefighting planes from Italy are also due to arrive on Friday, on top of the four planes sent from Greece and Sweden today, Guesperau added.

“Today, we benefit fully from European solidarity,” French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told reporters earlier 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 Gironde.

Wildfires in France have been especially violent this summer, raging across the south and southwestern part of the country while also popping up in the regions of Normandy and Brittany — further north than is typical.

Fires have burnt through 41,400 hectares in France since June 10, a huge 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 UK also suffering

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 farming association said Thursday.

Drought has meant that the soil hasn’t been able to absorb any rainfall in recent storms, leading to flooding and landslides, according to Coldretti.

Hail was “the most serious climatic event due to the irreversible damage it caused to the crops,” the association said, adding that “in a few minutes, it is able to destroy a whole year’s work.”

La Vinuela reservoir near Malaga, southern Spain pictured on  August 8.

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

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

Heat warnings are in place in various parts of the country for Thursday, with the largest concentration of affected communities in Spain’s northeastern regions near the border with France.

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

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Most parts of the country are covered by heat warnings for Friday and maximum temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius are expected in the northeast and south of Spain.

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

Firefighters tackled 340 grass, rubbish and open land fires in the first week of August, compared to 42 fires in that same week last year, which is equivalent to an eight-fold increase, the Brigade said in a statement.

The Fire Brigade chief asked Londoners not to have barbecues in open spaces or on balconies, to dispose of their garbage safely and extinguish cigarettes properly.

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

Temperatures are expected to peak on Friday and Saturday and are “likely” to hit the low-to-mid 30 degrees 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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