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VIDEO: 22,000 evacuated as French firefighters struggle to contain massive wildfires

Another 8,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in south west France, as changing winds raises the risk of wildfires spreading to residential areas.

VIDEO: 22,000 evacuated as French firefighters struggle to contain massive wildfires
Members of the public observe a fire from La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France, on July 16, 2022. - The intense mobilization of firefighters did not weaken on July 16, 2022 to fix the fires in the south of France, and particularly in Gironde where new evacuations are in progress in front of the advance of the flames which ravaged more than 10.000 hectares of forests, in a context of generalized heat wave all weekend. (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP)

Firefighters have been unable to control the blaze near the Dune de Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune and a summer tourism hotspot, where rapidly changing winds have increased the risk of it spreading to residential areas, they said.

“The smoke is toxic,” firefighter spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP. “Protecting the population is a matter of public health.”

Some 8,000 people were evacuated from Les Miquelots, a southern neighbourhood of the town of Teste-de-Buch, with another 3,000 told to leave Pyla-sur-mer, to the east.

Monday’s evacuation effort comes after 14,000 people – including tourists at campsites in the area – have been evacuated since the fire broke out on Tuesday. 

Firefighters in the coastal town of Arcachon in France’s southwestern Gironde département were fighting to control two forest blazes that have devoured more than 10,000 hectares since Tuesday.

“It’s a Herculean job,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Olivier Chavatte from the fire and rescue service, which has 1,200 firefighters and five planes in action.

Further evacuation orders were given on Saturday for a few hundred residents, firefighter spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP, including tourists at several campsites.

Since Tuesday, more than 22,000 people in total – residents and tourists combined – have been forced to decamp with seven emergency shelters set up in order to receive evacuees.

Tourists evacuate the Capfun campsite near La Teste-de-Buch, southwestern France. Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

Météo France forecast temperatures of 40C and above for large parts of France at the start of this week, with 15 départements on red alert for extreme heat on Monday.

READ ALSO What temperatures can we expect in France this week?

Authorities in the French Alps urged climbers bound for Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, to postpone their trip due to repeated rock falls caused by “exceptional climatic conditions” and “drought”.

The call comes after a section of Italy’s biggest Alpine glacier gave way at the start of the month, killing 11 people, in a disaster officials blamed on climate change.

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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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