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WILDFIRES

Firefighters contain ‘mega-fire’ in southern France

A massive fire that ravaged 650 hectares (1,600 acres) and forced people to evacuate in southern France has been brought under control, the fire service said Saturday.

Firefighter trucks driving past burnt forest in France
Firefighters trucks drive past burnt forest after wildfire near Besseges, southern France, on July 8, 2022. - More than 900 firefighters backed by aircraft were deployed on July 8, 2022 to battle a massive blaze in France's southern Gard region that burned 600 hectares (1,500 acres) overnight. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP)

Up to 950 fire fighters backed by aircraft had deployed in the southern Gard region but the “critical phase” has now passed, said fire service spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Eric Agrinier.

 “For the moment, the fire is contained. This means that we don’t think it can spread anymore,” he added.

Around 520 fire fighters remain on the ground in the area, he said,  90 kilometres (55 miles) north of Montpellier and the Mediterranean coast.

The spokesman said units would continue treating the edges of the fire, metre by metre, and were monitoring to avoid any risk of the blaze worsening with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), winds and low humidity as risk factors.

Described by emergency responders as a “mega-fire”, the blaze started near the village of Bordezac and forced evacuations from nearby Besseges and other settlements on Thursday night.

The local prefect’s office had said around 100 people were put up in holiday homes and restaurants in the area.

Like large swathes of the country, southeast France has suffered from drought this year, increasing the risk of fires.

During an unseasonable heatwave last month, around 600 hectares were burned in a fire started by shelling on an army artillery training range near the Mediterranean port city Marseille.

French civil security services recommended that citizens remain very careful until Sunday in all “the Mediterranean zone”, “because of a very high danger of fires”.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Paris officials to run emergency exercise simulating a 50C day in the city

As the climate crisis pushes temperatures ever higher, officials in Paris are preparing a simulation of the day when the mercury tops 50C, in order to prepare the city's emergency response.

Paris officials to run emergency exercise simulating a 50C day in the city

This simulation, which was announced on Wednesday, is set to take place in October 2023, and it would plunge two parts of one arrondissement (which has not yet been decided) into the fictitious scenario to test the city’s capacity to respond to such a crisis. 

The current temperature record in Paris is 42.6C, which was set during the heatwave of 2019, but experts predict that the record is unlikely to remain unbroken for much longer.  

According to Deputy Mayor of Paris, Penelope Komitès, the city wants to be able to anticipate the next disaster.

“[Paris] has withstood various crises in recent years,” she said to French daily Le Parisien. The public official referenced past disasters, such as the flood of the Seine in 2018, Notre-Dame catching on fire, along with widespread protests and social movements.

“What will be the next crisis?” she said.

Public authorities hope to expand upon and move beyond the city’s first “action plan,” which was adopted in 2017.

The heatwave simulation would allow the city to test its emergency response capacity, namely deployment of cool rooms, shaded areas and other measures. It would also allow public officials to gauge and predict the reactions of Parisians amid a disastrous heatwave of 50C. 

READ MORE: ‘Over 40C’: What will summers in Paris be like in future?

“We have survived crises, but they can happen again,” Komitès said to Le Parisien. Her goal is not for the simulation to provoke anxiety, but instead to prepare the city to mobilise in such an event. 

According to RTL, on Wednesday, the greater Paris region also presented its plan to adapt the community “to the effects of climate change”.

Valérie Pécresse, the regional representative, referenced plans for “1,000 fountains” and the creation of “a network of climate shelters.”

Additionally, the region has set a target of increasing its green space by 5,000 hectares by 2030. The targets of this plan would include priority urban spaces: schoolyards, parking lots, squares, as well as cemeteries.

In 2003, the country suffered a historic heatwave that resulted in at least 14,000 heat-related deaths. Since then, France and its cities have begun adapting to rising temperatures by working to increase green space, provide ‘heat

An analysis from the BBC in 2021 found that “the number of extremely hot days every year when the temperature reaches 50C has doubled since the 1980s.”

READ MORE: Trees to trams: How French cities are adapting to summer heatwaves

This will not be the first simulation activity to anticipate or help the public become aware of rising temperatures. 

In 2014, meteorologist Evelyne Dhéliat gave a ‘fake forecast’ pretending that the year was 2050. The temperatures on her map however, ended up being eerily close to those France has seen regularly since 2019.

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