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CLIMATE CRISIS

Thunderstorms expected around contained French wildfire

French firefighters were keeping a wary eye on a huge blaze that appeared to be contained in the country's southwest, with thunderstorms and strong wind gusts expected in the area overnight.

Firefighters at work in southern France to contain a wildfire.
Firefighters at work in southern France earlier in the week. Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

The 40-kilometre (25-mile) fire front in the Gironde and Landes departments around Bordeaux “did not significantly progress overnight. Firefighters are working on its periphery,” police said in a statement.

But officials said it was premature to say that the blaze — which has already reignited once — was under control.

“We remain vigilant” because “while we can’t see huge flames, the fire continues to consume vegetation and soil,” Arnaud Mendousse, lieutenant colonel of Gironde fire and rescue, told AFP.
 
Weather forecasters are expecting thunderstorms with wind gusts of up to 60 kilometres an hour in the region in the evening.
 
The wind “could reignite the fire” that “is in a state of pause,” Menousse warned.
 
EU members including Germany, Poland, Austria and Romania have pledged reinforcements totalling 361 firefighters to join the roughly 1,100 French ones on the ground, along with several water-bombing planes from the European Union fleet.
 
 
Most of the reinforcements had arrived on the ground, with the last 146 firefighters from Poland expected later on Saturday.
 
France has been buffeted this summer by an historic drought that has forced water use restrictions nationwide, as well as a series of heatwaves that experts say are being driven by climate change.
 
The blaze near Bordeaux erupted in July — the driest month seen in France since 1961 — destroying 14,000 hectares and forcing thousands of people to evacuate before it was contained.
 
But it continued to smoulder in the tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.
 
Officials suspect arson may have played a role in the latest flare-up, which has burned 7,400 hectares (18,000 acres) since Tuesday.
 
Fires in France in 2022 have ravaged an area three times the annual average over the past 10 years, with blazes also active in the Alpine Jura, Isere and Ardeche regions this week.
 
European Copernicus satellite data showed more carbon dioxide greenhouse gas — over one million tonnes — had been released from 2022’s forest fires in France than in any summer since records began in 2003.

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WILDFIRES

Summer wildfires in France: 48 arrested on suspicion of arson

Police have arrested 48 people for allegedly starting forest fires in France during the summer, a spokeswoman told AFP Friday, after a season marked by large, devastating blazes.

Summer wildfires in France: 48 arrested on suspicion of arson

Up to 10,000 French firefighters a day were mobilised this summer to fight fires which have ravaged more than 65,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System — a record since the start of satellite data in 2006.

Of the 48 arrested, 12 people have already been sentenced to two years in prison, while “more than a dozen” have been remanded in custody, said national gendarmerie spokeswoman Marie-Laure Pezant.

“We found young people, minors, retirees, mostly men,” she said, adding that the suspects came from all backgrounds.

Some have “a weaker psychological profile, sometimes mental disorders,” Pezant said, adding that some of the suspects were firefighters as well.

According to the National Forestry Office, nine out of 10 fires are of human origin and, on average, three out of 10 fires are intentionally started.

France’s southwestern Gironde department – home to part of Europe’s largest coniferous forest – was particularly affected this summer, with 30,000 hectares going up in smoke.

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