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HEATWAVE

Macron to visit wildfires site as blazes break out across France

As temperatures finally begin to fall after a record-breaking heatwave in France, forest fires still rage across the country. On Wednesday President Emmanuel Macron will visit the south west, where two major fires continue burn.

Macron to visit wildfires site as blazes break out across France
Firefighters stand on a road with heavy smoke in the background during forest fires in south-western France, on July 17, 2022. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The French president is expected to meet members of the emergency services, local officials and volunteers as he tours the area on Wednesday alongside Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

In Gironde, south west France, there are currently two massive fires – in La Teste-de-Buch and Landiras – that have not yet been contained, though firefighters have managed to gain better control over the flames more thanks to improved weather conditions. 

But fires have broken out across France, including in Brittany, Yvelines in the Paris region and Oise in north east France.

MAP Where are the main wildfires in France right now?

The heatwave has largely ended, with temperatures across the majority of the country dropping from above 40C on Tuesday to the mid-20s on Wednesday.

In Gorinde, local fire service spokesman Arnaud Mendousse told AFP that only 300 more hectares had burned since Tuesday evening. “Our assessment is generally positive. The situation improved overnight.”

In total, nearly 20,600 hectares of forest have gone up in smoke – an area equivalent to almost twice the size of Paris.

So far, 36,750 people have been evacuated from the area, and most do not know when it will be safe to return home. 

“We are not in a position to tell people when they will be able to go home,” said the sub-prefect of Arcachon, Ronan Léaustic, during his press conference.

Humans are not the only ones who have needed to be taken to safety. On Monday, the local authorities in Gironde ordered the emergency evacuation of a zoo in the Bassin d’Arcachon. While most animals were transported out of harms way, “a dozen unfortunately did not survive the heat and stress,” according to the Environment Ministry.  

The biggest blaze is in a thinly populated area south of Bordeaux near the village of Landiras, which is being treated by police as suspected arson.

A suspect remains in custody and will be charged or released on Wednesday.

A second fire has ripped through a popular ocean-front tourist area behind the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s biggest sand dune, near the Bay of Arcachon.

It is thought to have been caused by a van that caught fire last week.

READ MORE: MAP: Where are the main wildfires in France right now?

Meanwhile, fires have also broken out in eastern France and notably in Brittany, where a fire is currently burning in Finistère, causing 500 people to be evacuated.

The fire broke as Brittany experienced record-breaking high temperatures and was placed for the first time on the ‘red’ alert for heat by Météo France. As of Tuesday morning, Finistère went into the ‘orange’ alert level as temperatures began to drop and storms picked up. 

The local authorities in Finistère said the fire has slowed down and is in the process of being contained, citing 1725 hectares burned.

The fire in Brittany burned along the mountains of Arrée, where a historic chapel – the church of St Michel de Brasparts – stands. Firefighters were able to save the church from burning, with flames stopping just a few metres from the structure.

Smoke from the fires has drifted across large parts of France, with the départements of Gironde, Charente, Dordogne and Vienne particularly affected by poor air quality.

READ ALSO Is the smoke drifting from France’s wildfires dangerous?

But the effects were felt as far away as Paris, as inhabitants of greater Paris Île-de-France region noticed a hazy sky and the smell of burning on Tuesday night.

According to Airparif, the agency that monitors air quality in the Île-de-France region, concentrations of particulate matter (air pollution) were in “in sharp increase,” which is attributable to the fire in Gironde and to “local fires”.

The AirParif particle pollution map below shows pollution coming from the south west.

For residents in the Paris area, the fire in Rochefort-en-Yvelines, near Rambouillet, might be most to blame for the strong smell of smoke, however. The city also saw two fires on Tuesday – one at a restaurant in the 16th arrondissement and another in a vehicle in the 17th arrondisement. These are not likely to be the origins of the plume of pollution, however.

Across France, emergency services are asking people not to call if they simply smell smoke, only if they see a fire.  

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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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