Wildfires burning across the south of France are ‘like a monster octopus’ that cannot be stopped until the weather changes, officials have warned as Europe continues to suffer through a record-breaking heatwave.
Gironde, an area that surrounds Bordeaux in the south-west of France, has seen two wildfires rip through tinder-dry grass and pine forest for a little over a week – torching an area twice the size of Paris in the process. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated and dozens of animals at a local zoo have died due to heat and stress.
Almost 2,000 firemen accompanied by water-bombing planes and helicopters have been battling to bring it under control amid temperatures that hit 42.4C (108.5F) yesterday – but Sebastien Lahaye, a coordinator with European projects on fire management, admitted today that the task is impossible until the weather changes.
‘These fires are no longer controllable,’ he told local media. ‘The only way for the fires to stop sustainably is a change in weather conditions.’
Jean-Luc Gleyze, Gironde’s regional president, told the BBC: ‘It’s a monster like an octopus, and it’s growing and growing and growing in the front, in the back, on both sides. Because of the temperature, because of the wind, because of the lack of water in the air… it’s a monster and it’s very difficult to fight against it.’
Eric Brocardi, spokesperson for the National Federation of Firefighters of France, described the blazes as ‘megafires’ – the likes of which his crews had never had to deal with before. Marc Vermeulen, head of the local fire service, said trees are ‘exploding’ from the heat.
At least one of the fires is thought to have been set deliberately, with a 39-year-old arrested and being questioned in police custody. The man, a local, was previously investigated for starting a fire in 2012, but was released due to lack of evidence. A witness says they saw him stop his car and start the fire before driving off.
It comes amid a deadly and record-breaking heatwave sweeping Europe that has brought widespread temperatures above 40C (104F) and turned the continent into a tinder-box. Dozens of fires are burning across Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Slovenia – with four times as many logged so-far this year compared to average.
Firemen battle a wildfire currently torching pine forests near Gironde, in the south of France, that has been burning for more than a week – amid warnings it cannot be extinguished until the weather changes
A fireman tamps down flames that have gutted a pine forest in Gironde, in the south of France, which saw record-breaking heat of 42.4C (108.5F) on Monday amid a record heatwave in Europe
A fireman readies his hose as he prepares to fight one of two fires currently burning in Gironde, where a man has been arrested and accused of deliberately starting one of them
Officials have described the fire in Gironde as a ‘monster octopus’ that advances in all direction at the same time, with trees ‘exploding’ from the heat it produces
A satellite image taken on Monday shows the extent of one of two huge wildfires raging in southern France amidst the heatwave, with the brown area showing vegetation that has already burned and the smoke showing areas still on fire
A satellite image taken on Monday shows the extent of a second wildfire burning in Gironde, in the south of France, with brown areas indicating where has already been torched and smoke showing where flames are still raging
Flames rise at a forest fire near Louchats in Gironde, southwestern France, where more than 30,000 people have been forced to flee their homes due to the advancing flames
Two huge wildfires burning in Gironde, southern France, have consumed almost 17,000 acres of forest since they began around a week ago due to very high temperatures in the region
Firefighters take positions as smoke rises from a forest fire near Louchats, in Gironde, south-western France
Firefighters unroll the fire hose at a forest fire near Louchats, 22 miles from Landiras in Gironde, southwestern France
‘Very extreme danger’ of fire warnings are in place across northern Spain, parts of northern France, and a large part of England today – with ‘extreme danger’ warnings widespread as a heatwave turns the continent into a tinder-box
The heatwave – driven at least in part by climate change – left least half the continent suffering through some form of drought, with around 10 per cent under the highest ‘alert’ level meaning that vegetation is struggling to survive in extremely dry conditions.
In Spain – nearly 10 days into the latest heatwave – more than a dozen fires continued to rage Tuesday, including in the northwest province of Zamora, which already experienced a huge fire last month.
Known as one of the largest wolf reserves in Europe, it saw nearly 30,000 hectares of land reduced to ashes during the June blaze.
Nearly 6,000 people had to be evacuated from there this week after flames destroyed several thousand hectares of meadows and forests, regional authorities said.
Rail traffic between Madrid and Galicia, in the northwest, remained suspended after fires on either side of the tracks.
Several people have died in recent days due to the blazes while separately, an office worker in his 50s died from heatstroke in Madrid.
In Portugal, more than 1,400 firefighters were fighting fires in the centre and north of the country, despite a clear drop in temperatures in recent days.
A couple in their 70s died Monday after they ran off the road while trying to escape the flames in their car.
Almost the entire country has been on high alert for wildfires despite a slight drop in temperatures, which last Thursday hit 47C – a record for July.
The fires have already killed two other people, injured around 60 and destroyed between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of land there.
Angel Martin Arjona was using a digger to carve out a trench around his village in northern Spain to try and save it from a rapidly advancing fire when he was swallowed by a wall of flame
Terrifying video shows Arjona escaping from the fire as the clothes burn off his back, before eventually making it to safety where he was airlifted to hospital with ‘severe burns’
Firefighters work in front of hills in Zamora, northern Spain, that are glowing orange from wildfires that are currently scorching their way across the region following an intense heatwave
At least two people – a 62-year-old firefighter and 69-year-old shepherd – have been killed in the wildfire raging in Zamora (pictured) which is rapidly advancing across acres of grassland
Firefighters work at the site of a wildfire outside Tabara, Zamora, on the second heatwave of the year, in Spain
Elsewhere, temperatures could locally exceed 40C in Belgium near the French border, prompting the Royal Meteorological Institute to issue its highest alert level.
Big state-run museums, primarily in Brussels, took the unusual step of offering free access Tuesday to over-65s to help them stay cool.
In Germany, temperatures were expected to reach up to 40C in the west.
On Monday, two firefighters were injured while beating back a forest fire in a mountainous area in Saxony state.
The hot summer so far has raised fears of drought, with the German Farmers’ Association president warning of “major losses” in food production.
Henning Christ, who grows wheat and other crops in Brandenburg state, told AFP his farm was 20 percent below its average annual yield.
“We’ve had almost no rain for months, coupled with high temperatures,” he said.
“We have become used to drought and dry periods to some extent, but this year has been very unusual.”
Climate scientists say heat waves are more intense, more frequent and longer because of climate change – and coupled with droughts have made wildfires harder to fight. They say climate change will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
‘Climate change kills,’ Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Monday during a visit to the Extremadura region, the site of three major blazes. ‘It kills people, it kills our ecosystems and biodiversity.’
Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister for ecological transition, described her country as ‘literally under fire’ as she attended talks on climate change in Berlin.
Firefighters try to extinguish a wildfire next to the village of Tabara, near Zamora, northern Spain
A firefighter tries to extinguish a wildfire next to the village of Tabara, near Zamora, northern Spain
Spain is suffering through its worst wildfire season for 15 years, sparked by two intense heatwaves that have dried the country to a crisp – with more hot weather on the way
Firefighters stand guard as they look at fire in the village of Tabara, near Zamora, northwest Spain
Firefighters use a bulldozer to shift earth on top of flames in an attempt to halt the advance of a wildfire burning in Spain
Firefighters from the Brigadas de Refuerzo en Incendios Forestales (BRIF) tackle a fire in a wheat field in Tabara, Zamora, on the second heatwave of the year, in Spain
A view shows the fire reaching a wheat field near Tabara, Zamora, on the second heatwave of the year, in Spain
She warned of ‘terrifying prospects still for the days to come’ – after more than 10 days of temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), cooling only moderately at night.
At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 47 C (117 F) earlier this month.
The heat wave in Spain was forecast to ease on Tuesday, but the respite will be brief as temperatures rise again on Wednesday, especially in the dry western Extremadura region.
In Britain, officials have issued the first-ever extreme heat warning, and the weather service forecast that the record high of 38.7 C (101.7 F), set in 2019, could be shattered.
‘Forty-one isn’t off the cards,’ said Met Office CEO Penelope Endersby. ‘We’ve even got some 43s in the model, but we’re hoping it won’t be as high as that.’
France’s often-temperate Brittany region sweltered with a record 39.3 C (102.7 F) degrees in the port of Brest, surpassing a high of 35.1 C that had stood since September 2003, French weather service Meteo-France said.
Regional records in France were broken in over a dozen towns, as the weather service said Monday was ‘the hottest day of this heat wave.’
The Balkans region expected the worst of the heat later this week, but has already seen sporadic wildfires.
Early Monday, authorities in Slovenia said firefighters brought one fire under control. Croatia sent a water-dropping plane there to help after struggling last week with its own wildfires along the Adriatic Sea. A fire in Sibenik forced some people to evacuate their homes but was later extinguished.
In Portugal, much cooler weather Monday helped fire crews make progress. More than 600 firefighters attended four major fires in northern Portugal.
Smoke rise from a fire of vast proportions affecting the areas of Massarosa and Bozzano, Italy
A Croatian Canadair firefighting airplane drops water on a large wildfire burning in the hills above Rence, in Slovenia
Firefighters put tanks of cooking gas into a swimming pool to stop them from exploding as a wildfire bears down on a five-star hotel in Gironde, in the south-west of France
A plane tackles a wildfire, during the second heatwave of the year, in the vicinity of Tabara, Spain
A water-bombing plane circles above a wildfire burning near the town of La Teste-de-Buch, in south-western France
People work on a boat, as plumbs of smoke produced by wildfires in La Teste-de-Buch forest are seen in the background
Beachgoers watch smoke produced by wildfires in La Teste-de-Buch forest, Arcachon, France
Firefighters rest after working on a fire near Landiras, as wildfires continue to spread in the Gironde region of France