France has been forced to call in reinforcements from across Europe to help battle a huge wildfire that has been burning in the south of the country for more than a month.
Hundreds of firefighters from Germany, Poland, Romania and Italy are heading to Gironde, near Bordeaux, to help tackle a blaze that began burning in early July as Europe’s record-breaking summer heatwave got underway before reigniting several days ago – forcing 10,000 people from their homes and burning 7,000 hectares of pine forest.
Water-bombing planes are also being sent from Greece and Sweden to help extinguish the flames, as locals describe biblical scenes. Valentine Dupy, who lives in the village of Belin-Beliet, said the region is ‘like an apocalypse. Smoke everywhere … and planes throwing orange powder onto the fire.’
Europe is sweltering through a record-breaking summer of heatwaves and drought that has parched the continent and turned forests tinder-dry. In Switzerland, a glacial pass that has been covered by ice for the last 2,000 years is set to be ice-free by the end of the week because it has all melted.
A water-bombing plane drops flame retardant chemicals on to trees in the Gironde region of France, where fire crews are struggling to extinguish a blaze that has been burning for more than a month
Flames rip through tinder-dry woodland in Gironde, in the south of France, where a record-breaking summer of heatwaves and drought has turned pine forests into firewood
Pine trees in Gironde, the south of France, are consumed by a wildfire that has burned through thousands of hectares of land since it first ignited last month
Fire crews had managed to dampen down the Gironde fire around the end of July, when Europe’s last major heatwave ended, but say it was never fully extinguished and has now re-ignited as the hot weather returns
A firefighting helicopter gathers water from a dried-out lake bed in Gironde, south of France, to try and extinguish a nearby wildfire that has forced 10,000 people from their homes
Firefighting trucks are barely visible beneath a huge plume of smoke from a wildfire burning in the south of France, as crews from across Europe are drafted in to help battle it
Flames consume woodland in Gironde, near Bordeaux, where a wildfire has been burning since early July and shows no signs of stopping as Europe’s record-breaking summer of heat and drought continues
Flames burn through woodland in the south of France, as 361 European firefighters rush to assist 1,100 French emergency workers who are already tackling the blaze
This photo provided by the fire brigade of the Gironde region SDIS 33, shows a wildfire burning near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, southwestern France
Firefighters embrace as they work to contain a fire in Saint-Magne, as wildfires continue to spread in the Gironde region of southwestern France
Firefighters said they had managed to save her village, transformed into a ghost town after police told residents to evacuate as the flames approached. But the blaze reached the outskirts, leaving wrecked houses and charred tractors in its wake.
‘We’ve been lucky. Our houses were saved. But you see the catastrophe all over there. Some houses could not be saved,’ said resident Gaetan, pointing to houses burnt to the ground.
Support was on its way from across Europe, with 361 firefighters, as well as trucks and waterbombing aircrafts, expected to back up the 1,100 French firefighters already on the ground.
‘We are still in the phase of (trying to) confine the fire, direct it where we want it, where there is less vegetation, where our vehicles can best position themselves … so we can eventually fix it, control it and extinguish it,’ said Matthieu Jomain, a spokesperson for the Gironde firefighers.
More than 60,000 hectares (230 square miles) have gone up in flames so far in France this year, six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System shows.
French authorities said temperatures in the Gironde region would reach 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and stay high until Saturday.
Firefighters warned of an ‘explosive cocktail’ of weather conditions, with wind and the tinder-box conditions helping fan the flames.
The Gironde was hit by big wildfires in July that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.
Hostens mayor Jean-Louis Dartiailh described the past weeks as a disaster. ‘The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,’ he told Radio Classique. ‘(This fire) is the final straw.’
A burned-out house and car are visible in the village of Belin-Beliet, in the Gironde region of France, after a wildfire swept through and destroyed some outlying buildings
A burned-out car is visible in front of a torched house in the village of Belin-Beliet, in the south of France, which was hit by wildfires that have burned through thousands of hectares of forest
A house in the south of France that has been gutted by fire stands in the village of Belin-Beliet, which had fortunately been evacuated before the flames arrived
A firefighting truck that had been helping to tackle blazes in the south of France ended up becoming a victim of them, as crews struggle to get the inferno under control
A glacial pass in Switzerland that has been covered by ice for the last 2,000 years is set to become ice-free by the end of the week as high temperatures cause it to melt – except for one strip covered by blankets to protect it
Europe is in the grips of sweltering heat, severe drought and raging wildfires that are tearing through Spain, France and Portugal, while key waterways such as the Rhine and the Po are running dry
Europe is suffering under a severe heat wave and drought that has produced tragic consequences for farmers and ecosystems already under threat from climate change and pollution.
In France, which is enduring its worst drought on record, flames raged through pine forests overnight, illuminating the sky with an intense orange light in the Gironde region, which was already ravaged by flames last month, and in neighboring Landes. More than 68 square kilometers (26 square miles) have burned since Tuesday.
Along the Oder River, which flows from Czechia north into the Baltic Sea, volunteers have been collecting dead fish that have washed ashore in Poland and Germany.
Piotr Nieznanski, the conservation policy director at WWF Poland, said it appears that a toxic chemical was released into the water by an industry and the low water levels caused by the drought has made conditions far more dangerous for the fish.
‘A tragic event is happening along the Oder River, an international river, and there is no transparent information about what is going on,’ he said, calling on government authorities to investigate.
People living along the river have been warned not to swim in the water or even touch it.
Poland’s state water management body said the drought and high temperatures can cause even small amounts of pollution to lead to an ecological disaster but it has not identified the source of the pollution.
In northern Serbia, the dry bed of the Conopljankso reservoir is now littered with dead fish that were unable to survive the drought.
The water level along Germany’s Rhine River was at risk of falling so low that it could become difficult to transport goods – including critical energy items like coal and gasoline.
In Italy, which is experiencing its worst drought in seven decades, the parched Po River has already caused billions of euros in losses to farmers who normally rely on Italy’s longest river to irrigate their fields and rice paddies.
‘I am young and I do not remember anything like this, but even the elderly in my village or the other villages around here have never seen anything like this, never ever,’ said Antonio Cestari, a 35-year-old farmer in Ficarolo who says he expects to produce only half his usual crops of corn, wheat and soy because his river-fed wells have such low water levels.
The Po runs 652 kilometers (405 miles) from the northwestern city of Turin to Venice. It has dozens of tributary rivers but northern Italy hasn’t seen rainfall for months and this year’s snowfall was down by 70%. The drying up of the Po is also jeopardizing drinking water in Italy’s densely populated and highly industrialized districts.
Elsewhere, in Scilla, footage was taken by locals of water cascading through the streets and engulfing cars on the road.
Writing on Twitter, one person said the water was the result of ‘climate change and untreated streams’ while another person said they hoped everyone was ok.
A resident watches the progression of a wildfire in Linhares, Celorico da Beira, Portugal
View of a burning area during a wildfire in Videmonte, Celorico da Beira, Portugal
View inside a burned house during a wildfire in Videmonte, Celorico da Beira, Portugal
A tree burning on the inside is seen in front of a wildfire in Videmonte, Celorico da Beira, Portugal
A firefighter looks at the aftermath of a wildfire in Videmonte, Celorico da Beira, Portugal,
Over in Portugal, the Serra da Estrela national park was also being ravaged by a wildfire. Some 1,500 firefighters, 476 vehicles and 12 aircraft were deployed to fight it but the wind-driven blaze 250 kilometers (150 miles) northeast of Lisbon was very hard to reach, with inaccessible peaks almost 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) high and deep ravines. The fire has charred 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of woodland.
In Britain, where temperatures hit a record 40.3 degrees Celsius (104.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in July, the weather office has issued a new warning for ‘extreme heat’ from Thursday through Sunday, with temperatures forecast to reach 36 C (96.8 F).
It has been one of the driest summers on record in southern Britain, and the Met Office weather service said there is an ‘exceptional risk’ of wildfires over the next few days.
London Fire Brigade said its control room had dealt with 340 grass, garbage and open-land fires during the first week of August, eight times the number from last year. Assistant Commissioner Jonathan Smith said ‘the grass in London is tinderbox dry and the smallest of sparks can start a blaze which could cause devastation.’
In Switzerland, a drought and high temperatures have endangered fish populations and authorities have begun moving fish out of some creeks that were running dry.
In Hausen, in the canton of Zurich, officials caught hundreds of fish, many of them brown trout, in the almost dried-up Heischerbach, Juchbach and Muehlebach creeks this week by anesthetizing them with electric shocks and then immediately placing them in a water tank enriched with oxygen, local media reported. Later, the fish were taken to creeks that still carry enough water.
Despite all the harm caused by the extreme weather, Swiss authorities see one morbid upside: they believe there’s hope of finding some people who went missing in the mountains in the last few years because their bodies are being released as glaciers melt.
In the Swiss canton of Valais, melting glaciers have recently revealed parts of a crashed airplane and, at separate locations, at least two skeletons. The bodies have not yet been identified, news website 20Minuten reported Thursday.
Spanish state television showed dozens of trucks heading to France having to turn around and stay in Spain because wildfires had forced authorities to close some border crossings. TVE reported that truckers, many carrying perishable goods, were looking for ways to cross the border because the parking areas around the Irun crossing were full.
France this week is in its fourth heat wave of the year as it faces what the government describes as the country’s worst drought on record. Temperatures were expected to reach 40 C (104 F) on Thursday.
A view of a dry lake bed near the village of Conoplja, 150 kilometers north-west of Belgrade, Serbia
Dead fish float on the surface of the Oder river, as water has been contaminated and is causing the mass extinction of fish in the river, in Bielinek, Poland
A dead fish lies on the bank of Oder River on the German-Polish border, in Brieskow-Finkenheerd, Frankfurt (Oder), Germany
A dead fish skeleton laying on the cracking earth of a dry lake bed near the village of Conoplja, 150 kilometers north-west of Belgrade, Serbia