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WILDFIRES

Residents and tourists evacuated as wildfires rage in south-west France

More than 6,500 people have been evacuated from villages and campsites in south-west France as firefighters battle to bring two raging wildfires under control

Residents and tourists evacuated as wildfires rage in south-west France
(Photo: Thibaud Moritz / AFP)

Some 600 firefighters are battling two large forest fires in the Gironde département, around Bordeaux, that have destroyed more than 1,700 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of more than 6,500 people.

The fires, south of Bordeaux, started on Tuesday, near the communes of Landiras, in the south of the Gironde, and at La Teste de Buch on the south shore of Arcachon Bay.

The Landiras blaze had destroyed more than 1,000 hectares of pine forest, local official Fabienne Buccio confirmed on Wednesday morning. “The front extends over five kilometres,” she told journalists. 

Smoke from the fire is visible from the Bordeaux ring road.

READ ALSO What to do if you see a wildfire in France

But, Buccio said: “It’s not a megafire. We are not overwhelmed. No one has been injured and no houses affected,” adding that 300 firefighters from other areas have been brought in to help tackle the flames.

A total 500 residents were evacuated overnight from five hamlets and the village of Guillos and taken to shelter in the villages of Louchats and La Brède. 

Authorities have closed a number of roads in the area, notably the RD115 between Guillos and Landiras, the RD220 between Guillos and Origne, the RD125 between Guillos and Landiras.

Meanwhile, a shift in the wind at 1am on Wednesday prompted authorities battling the blaze at La Teste to order the evacuation of five campsites near the Dune du Pilat.

Some 6,000 people were taken to the resort’s parc des expositions and a local supermarket, while 100 motorhomes were moved to the resort of Biscarrosse in the neighbouring Landes département.

“Access [to the fire] is difficult, so we are following the fire, which is still evolving,” fire commander Laurent Dellac told journalists early on Wednesday.

READ ALSO ‘Be vigilant’: The parts of France braced for forest fires this summer

The departmental road D218 is closed between the roundabout of Pilat and Biscarrosse plage.

A total of 200 firefighters and 95 vehicles, with reinforcements from Charente, Charente-Maritime, Dordogne and Pyrénées-Atlantiques, were mobilised overnight to combat the blaze, which has consumed more than 700 hectares of forest.

Président of the Département de la Gironde Jean-Luc Gleyze told regional newspaper Sud Ouest: “All the factors were there to aggravate the fire: heat wave, exceptionally dry low vegetation, swirling winds. 

“It is to be hoped that the intervention of the Canadairs will stabilise the front. Firefighters arrive as reinforcements throughout France.

READ ALSO 1,000 firefighters battle ‘mega-fire’ in southern France

National weather forecaster Meteo-France placed Gironde – along with Lot-et-Garonne, Tarn-et-Garonne, Tarn, Haute-Garonne, Ardèche and Drôme – on orange heat wave alert on Wednesday. 

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ENVIRONMENT

France opens up first offshore windfarm – but will more follow?

President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated France’s first offshore windfarm off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on Thursday as he seeks to accelerate renewable energy supply and improve energy security.

France opens up first offshore windfarm - but will more follow?

The 80 turbines will enter full service by the end of the year, and Macron has previously set a goal of about 50 offshore windfarms “providing up to 40 gigawatts” in service by 2050.

Following the belated inauguration of the country’s first offshore windfarm, another at Fécamp is due to start generating power in 2023. Sites in Saint-Brieuc, Fécamp and Courseulles-sur-Mer are set to enter service in 2024.

But France has a long way to go to meet the President’s target, and to catch up with its European neighbours. Before the Saint-Nazaire wind farm (‘parc éolien’ – en français), France had only one floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Le Croisic.

At Thursday’s inauguration event, Macron was to set out the “main lines” of a bill to accelerate France’s renewable energy programme, which will be presented to the Council of Ministers on Monday, September 26th.

READ ALSO France generates electricity from offshore wind farm for the first time

There is no doubt that renewable energy production in France is accelerating. On top of the 80 offshore turbines at Saint-Nazaire, just under 9,000 onshore turbines are currently producing electricity in France – eight years ago, around half that number of land-based turbines were operational. 

The first turbines in France were only installed in the 1990s – by which time countries like Germany and Denmark already had large-scale operations in place. 

More turbines would be in operation now in France, but for the lengthy planning process and appeals against projects, which have delayed construction for several years.

Hauts-de-France and Grand-Est, account for 50 percent of the wind-produced power in France. Île-de-France, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, and Corsica lag behind the other regions.

READ MORE: Energy shortages: What’s the problem with France’s nuclear industry?

In 2020, wind produced just eight percent of its electricity from wind, behind hydroelectric stations, while nuclear power generated nearly 70 percent of the country’s electricity.

Wind power accounted for 20 percent of electricity generation in Germany and Spain, while the UK was at 30 percent in 2020, Portugal produced 40 percent, and Denmark’s windfarms met 60 percent of the country’s electricity needs.

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