France faces soaring temperatures and forest fires over the weekend

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More than 12,200 people have now been evacuated from their homes in southwest France as firefighters struggle to bring wildfires under control, regional authorities said on Saturday. Close to 10,000 hectares are on fire in the Gironde region.

Over the weekend, the heatwave is expected to extend to the north where temperatures are expected to match those of the south of France with peaks of 40 degrees across the country.

Multiple fires

Multiple fires have already broken out with two major conflagrations in the Gironde department in the south-west. One is thought to have been started deliberately, the Bordeaux public prosecutor's office said.

President Emmanuel Macron, visiting the Operational Centre for Crisis Management (Cogic) in Paris, said that there will be a full “mobilisation" of state services. "We will continue to hold," he assured the public.

For this, the second heat wave of the year, 16 departments have now been placed on an orange heat wave alert by Meteo-France until Sunday – the second highest level – stretching from Alpes-de-Haute-Provence to Bordeaux.

Late Friday afternoon, temperatures had already hit 35 degrees in Toulouse, 39.6 in Apt (Vaucluse department) and 39 degrees in Perpignan and Nîmes.

In its latest bulletin, the weather institute said that "temperatures will begin to rise gently on the northern half of the country" from Saturday afternoon, while remaining "very high" in the southern half.

This rise will continue into Sunday, in particular in the south-west, "where temperatures of 40°C will be common".

Fires in the Gironde department

"Temperatures will reach exceptional levels on Sunday and Monday" in the western regions with many absolute records expected, especially on Monday, Olivier Proust, forecaster for Meteo-France, told French news agency AFP.

In the Gironde department in the south-west, where fires have been raging since Tuesday, without causing any casualties, some 7,700 hectares of pine trees have already gone up in smoke in two gigantic blazes.

One of the two Gironde fires was around the town of Landiras south of Bordeaux, where 4,200 hectares of forest have been burnt, and roads closed. A further 480 residents have also been evacuated, bringing the total in the area to almost a 1,000 evacuees.

The other blaze, which has already burnt 3,100 hectares, was along the Atlantic Coast close to the Dune of Pilat – the tallest sand dune in Europe – in the Arcachon Bay area, above which heavy clouds of dark smoke were seen rising into the sky.

Since Tuesday, more than 11,000 people have been evacuated from campsites near the Dune as well as from the town and military base of Cazaux.

Driven by the wind, the smoke released by the fires in Gironde were visible on Friday from as far away as Auch and in a large part of Gers, with a strong smell of "burned matter" in the air, according to firemen in the area.

Rain of ashes in Avignon

In the Bouches-du-Rhône, some 680 firefighters remained mobilised in the face of the fire that has been raging there since Thursday in the Montagnette massif, south of Avignon, with the Mistral wind making fire-fighting efforts difficult.

An investigation has been opened to determine if the fire was started accidently by a freight train.

"According to testimonies this freight train would have generated sparks on several occasions", the prosecutor of Tarascon said.

The head of French fire department in the region, Gregory Allione, said this second heatwave in barely a month is creating a huge strain on firefighters who are still recovering from the earlier heatwave.

At the end of June, 1,800 hectares of forest had already been burned in the military camp of Canjuers (Var department), 1,250 in the Pyrenees-Orientales and 650 in the Cevennes (department of Gard) in early July.

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