EU countries rush to help France tackle ‘monstrous’ wildfires

<span>Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of firefighters from across the EU have been rushed to France to help battle wildfires in an unprecedented show of international solidarity.

Most are stationed along a 26 mile (40km) active fire-front in the south-west, where a blaze described as “monstrous” continued to devastate pine forests.

German firefighters and their vehicles arrived in the early hours of Friday morning to help tackle the massive Landiras fire in the Gironde and the Landes, south of Bordeaux, which had sparked up again this week after destroying swathes of forest in July.

The ruins of a house destroyed by a fire that erupted in Belin-Beliet, south-west France.
The ruins of a house destroyed by fire in Belin-Beliet, south-west France. Photograph: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Romanian firefighters and teams from Poland, Austria, Greece and Italy were also deployed to help more than 1,100 French firefighters try to contain the blaze. President Emmanuel Macron tweeted of the more than 360 firefighters arriving with vehicles and planes: “Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!”

In a summer of extreme heat and drought, France has faced its most serious forest fires in years. One local firefighter described the Landiras blaze in south-west France as “a sleeping monster which can wake at any gust of wind”.

The French state broadcaster reported that since the start of the year, 56,000 hectares of forest had burned in France – three times the annual average this decade. There have also been forest fires in northern regions not usually hit by summer blazes, including in Brittany, where firefighting planes arrived from Sweden to help.

France’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne (centre), greets firefighters
France’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne (centre), greets firefighters as she visits the site of a wildfire in Hostens, south-west France. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/EPA

Authorities in the Gironde said in a statement that more than 7,400 hectares of forest had burned in the Landiras fire, France’s biggest blaze. They said that although the fire had not developed further overnight, high temperatures and dry conditions expected on Friday meant there was a “severe risk” of the fire spreading, and it would be a “complicated” day for fire teams.

The fire had already destroyed 14,000 hectares in July – the driest month in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it had never been fully extinguished and had continued to smoulder in the region’s peat-rich soil before erupting again this week in the tinder-dry pine forests.

Since flaring up again on Tuesday, the fire, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, has burned through 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to flee, Lieut-Col Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service told AFP.