Record high temperatures registered around France as fires rage in southwest

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© Loic Venance, AFP

Record high temperatures were registered in 64 different areas around France on Monday as a heatwave peaked in the country, the national weather service confirmed on Tuesday.

Most of the highs were recorded along the western Atlantic coast where temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and several forest fires are raging.

Record temperatures were also set to hit France on Tuesday, exacerbating the risk of wildfires, according to the country’s meteorological office.

"Tinder dry conditions and extreme heat are exacerbating the risk of wildfires," according to a statement from the Copernicus monitoring service.

The organisation's emergency management service has warned that a large proportion of western Europe is in "extreme fire danger" with some areas of "very extreme fire danger".

Météo-France on Tuesday morning lifted a red heatwave vigilance alert on 15 départements (administrative units) along the Atlantic coast, but 73 remained on orange alert, with temperatures rising to between 37 and 40°C in the east, and potentially violent thunderstorms expected in the southwest.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters from across France, supported by significant air resources, are battling two wildfires that have burned 4,700 hectares of forest in the Gironde, according to local officials.

For nearly a week now, armies of firefighters and a fleet of waterbombing aircraft have battled blazes that have mobilised much of France's firefighting capacity.

‘Boost of solidarity’ at evacuation centre

Reporting from an evacuation centre in the Arcachon area of the Gironde, where five campsites were burned down, FRANCE 24’s Sophie Lamotte said most of the people at the shelter were locals.

“Volunteers here tell us there were lots of foreigners initially who were evacuated. Foreigners have now mainly left because they could not return to their camping sites,” said Lamotte.

People at the shelter mostly spend the night before they manage to move to "a more semi-permanent place of refuge", she said.

“There’s been a huge boost of solidarity here. We see here hundreds of volunteers, workers from the Red Cross and other charities as well as workers from the municipality. There’s also a lot of people offering space in their homes to welcome people who have been evacuated. Volunteers here say they registered over 600 people who offered space in their homes.”

The European heatwave is the second to engulf parts of the southwest of the continent in recent weeks.

European Commission researchers, meanwhile, said nearly half (46 percent) of EU territory was exposed to warning-level drought. Eleven percent was at an alert level, and crops were already suffering from lack of water.

Pine trunks 'bursting'

Blazes in France, Greece, Portugal and Spain have destroyed thousands of hectares of land.

An area nine kilometres (5.5 miles) long and eight kilometres wide was still ablaze near France's Dune de Pilat, Europe's highest sand dune, turning picturesque landscapes, popular campsites and pristine beaches into a scorching mess.

The blaze was literally "blowing things up", such was its ferocity, said Marc Vermeulen, head of the local fire service. "Pine trunks of 40 years are bursting."

A total of 8,000 people were being evacuated from near the dune Monday as a precaution, as changing winds blew thick smoke into residential areas, officials said.

Hurriedly packing her car, Patricia Monteil said she would go to her daughter's home in another part of the district. "But if that goes up in flames too, I don't know what to do."

Around 32,000 tourists or residents have been forced to decamp in France, many to emergency shelters.

On Monday evening, prosecutors in the southwest city of Bordeaux said a man suspected of having started one of the fires in the region had been taken into custody.

At Avignon, in the southeast, a fire that first started last Thursday surged back to life on Monday, local firefighters reported, while a separate fire broke out up in the northwest, in Brittany.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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