A “monster” wildfire raged for a third day in southwestern France yesterday, ravaging forests and forcing 10,000 people to evacuate their homes.
With no let-up in scorching temperatures likely before the weekend, firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft battled on many fronts, saying the massive fire could change direction at any moment.
“It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,” Gregory Allione from the French firefighters body FNSPF told RTL radio.
Wildfires have broken out across Europe this summer as successive heatwaves bake the continent and renew focus on climate change risks to industry and livelihoods.
Valentine Dupy took photos of her house before being evacuated from Belin-Beliet, at the heart of the Gironde region “just in case something happens”.
“It was like an apocalypse. Smoke everywhere ... and planes throwing orange powder onto the fire,” she said.
Firefighters said they had managed to save her village, transformed into a ghost town after police told residents to evacuate as the flames approached.
However, the blaze reached the outskirts, leaving wrecked houses and charred tractors in its wake.
“We’ve been lucky. Our houses were saved. But you see the catastrophe all over there. Some houses could not be saved,” said resident Gaetan, pointing to houses burnt to the ground.
“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic ... and they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides – nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.
On nearby houses, people hung out white sheets saying “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service told journalists in Hostens.
Support was on its way from across Europe, with 361 firefighters, as well as trucks and waterbombing aircrafts, expected to back up the 1,100 French firefighters already on the ground.
“We are still in the phase of (trying to) confine the fire, direct it where we want it, where there is less vegetation, where our vehicles can best position themselves ... so we can eventually fix it, control it and extinguish it,” said Matthieu Jomain, a spokesperson for the Gironde firefighters.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was to meet with authorities battling the Landiras fire south of Bordeaux, and further reinforcements are expected for the 1,100 firefighters on site, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.
Currently eight major wildfires are raging in France and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who was also heading to meet Gironde officials yesterday, said that Sweden and Italy were sending fire-fighting aircraft to help.
President Emmanuel Macron added on Twitter that Germany, Greece, Poland, Romania and Austria are also providing help.
“Across the country more than 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames ... these soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.
More than 60,000 hectares (230sq miles) have gone up in flames so far in France this year, six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System shows.
French authorities said temperatures in the Gironde region would reach 40° Celsius and stay high until tomorrow.
Firefighters warned of an “explosive cocktail” of weather conditions, with wind and the tinder-box conditions helping fan the flames.
The Gironde was hit by wildfires in July that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Hostens mayor Jean-Louis Dartiailh described the past weeks as a disaster.
“The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,” he told Radio Classique. “(This fire) is the final straw.”
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