LATEST: South west France hit by more wildfires as 6,800 hectares burn

Wildfires in France's south west were ablaze again on Wednesday as the country was hit by another period of extreme heat. Some 6,800 hectares have already burned.

LATEST: South west France hit by more wildfires as 6,800 hectares burn
Smoke billows above the trees after wildfires damaged the forest near Landiras, southwestern France on July 29th. Forest fires have reignited in the area as of August 9th. (Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP)

France’s south west was once again hit enormous wildfires on Wednesday, just a few weeks after over 14,000 hectares were scorched during July’s heatwaves. 

The flames resumed on Tuesday, August 9th, and over 1,100 firefighters were fighting the flames as of Thursday, several of whom worked through Wednesday night to attempt to tame the fire. They were assisted by nine planes and two helicopters
equipped to drop water.

The latest reports on Thursday morning said that approximately 6,800 hectares had been burned, and several firefighters left injured.

Much of south west France was once again baking under a heatwave – the third period of extreme heat to hit France this summer.

The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, and Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, are expected to visit the affected region on Thursday, August 11th.

The Interior Minister announced Wednesday he suspected the resumption of the fires could be due to arson, as eight fires in close proximity to one another started around the same time.

“There were eight fires that erupted between 8:00 and 9:00 am that erupted at intervals of a few hundred metres, which is extremely unusual,” he said in Mostuejouls, north of the Mediterranean city of Montpellier, where another fire was raging in the Grands Causses natural park, reported AFP.

As a result of the latest fires, local authorities have evacuated about 10,000 people as a precaution, telling BFMTV that their “first objective in this fight is to save human lives.” Additionally, the freeway from Bordeaux to Bayonne was closed on Wednesday because of visibility issues due to smoke. 

Parts of the A63 motorway remain closed. In the direction of Bordeaux, traffic has been diverted for all to the A64 freeway at the A63/A64 junction. All vehicles must take the exit at Saint-Geours-de-Maremne. For “heavy goods vehicles,” the exit is compulsory at Exit 1 at Biriatou.

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

No one has been injured in the coastal area that draws huge summer tourism crowds but 17 houses were destroyed near the village of Belin-Beliet.

Amid heatwave and drought, the weather conditions were particularly unfavourable in the region, which is currently on ‘orange’ alert for high temperatures. Meteorologists were also expecting gusts wind of up to 35 km/h in the area. “The scorching temperatures (40C on Thursday), should continue until Saturday and combine with very dry air to create very precarious conditions with severe risk of fire outbreak,” local authorities said to SudOuest on Thursday. 

The Landiras fire that ignited in July was the largest of several that have raged this year in southwest France, which has been buffeted by record drought and a series of heat waves.

Arsonists set some of the fires and officials initially suspected a criminal origin for the Landiras blaze. Police later released a suspect for lack of evidence.

Wednesday’s wildfire in Landiras was not the only blaze in France on Wednesday.

Another notable wildfire burned over 1,500 hectares in Maine-et-Loire – to the east of Nantes, between the cities of Angers and Le Mans. The regional firefighting coordination centre said it suspects arsonists are behind some of the “unlikely flare-ups” of the blaze.

Some 400 firefighters were on the scene, battling a fire that has “grown significantly” according to the local fire brigade on Wednesday morning. As of Thursday, local authorities reported this fire was under control (fixé).

The fires come as the majority of mainland France was on some level of drought alert, with many places only restricting water to only priority usage. 

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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.