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Friday, February 3, 2023

10,000 evacuated as wildfires ravage pine forests in south-west France

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A thousand firefighters with 10 water-dumping planes have struggled to contain two wildfires in south-west France that have forced the evacuation of 11,300 people and ravaged pine forests near the Atlantic coast.

High temperatures and strong winds have complicated firefighting efforts in the Bordeaux region, one of several around Europe scorched by wildfires this season.

No victims have been reported so far in the French fires, though some homes and cars have been damaged.

One of the French fires is in woodlands just south of the town of Arcachon, a major attraction for visitors from around France and beyond during the summer season.

The other is in parkland not far from valleys dotted with vineyards that have struggled with hotter, drier weather than usual this year that authorities link to climate change.

“We are living through an exceptionally harsh (summer) season,” French President Emmanuel Macron said during a visit to the government crisis management centre at the Interior Ministry in Paris.

The number of French forests burnt in fires this year is already triple those destroyed in 2020, Mr Macron said.

More than 7,000 hectares of land have been consumed by the fires, according to the regional emergency service.

As the fires stretched into a fourth day on Friday, one of the fires was partially contained, it said, but warned that hotter temperatures and winds coming from inland over the weekend could further complicate the efforts.

Some of the firefighting planes and equipment that were supposed to be displayed in Thursday’s Bastille Day parade in Paris were diverted for use on the Bordeaux region fires.

Wildfires also broke out in south-east France and north of Paris.

Portugal has been particularly hard hit by wildfires this week. More than 3,000 firefighters battled on Thursday alongside ordinary Portuguese citizens desperate to save their homes from several wildfires that raged across the country, fanned by extreme temperatures and drought conditions.

Spain, Croatia and Hungary have also fought wildfires this week. The European Union has urged member states to prepare for wildfires this summer as the continent faces another extreme weather shift that scientists say is being triggered by climate change.

In the Spanish city of Seville, one of the hottest spots in Europe this week, some unions called for workers to be sent home.

Temperatures in many parts of Spain have been topping the 40C (104F) for several days and are expected to continue to do so through to next week.

Seville became the first city in the world to take part in a pilot project that names and categorises heatwaves in an effort to raise awareness of the health hazards caused by extreme heat and the precautions citizens should take.

“Climate-driven extreme heat is killing more people than any other of the climate-driven hazards. Heat is invisible, it is silent and it kills slowly, and people are not aware of it,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, director of the Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Centre of the Atlantic Council.

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