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WILDFIRES

Wildfires reignite in south western France forcing residents to leave homes

Wildfires have reignited in the south western France amid unseasonably high temperatures leaving over one 1,300 hectares burned and forcing residents to evacuate their homes.

Wildfires reignite in south western France forcing residents to leave homes
Firefighters are at work to protect houses threatened by a wildfire in Saumos near Bordeaux, southwestern France, on September 12, 2022. (Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP)

As parts of southern France bake under record-high temperatures for September, forest fires reignited again in the south west, causing at least 1,300 hectares to burn and forced residents to leave their homes.

A smaller wildfire outside Dax, which is to the south of Bordeaux, burned an additional 45 hectares.

The blazes forced 540 residents in the town of Saumos, located in France’s Gironde département, to be evacuated. Four homes were destroyed.

The fires started on Monday afternoon, but strong winds and unfavourable weather conditions made it difficult for the 340 firefighters working through the night to contain the flames.

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

Significant air resources were also deployed, including two Canadair planes, two helicopters and a Dash plane.

Images of the firefighting effort can be seen below:

“The winds are turning, and the town that is beginning to be surrounded by flames. Firefighters a little overwhelmed because it is coming from all sides. We are still in the process of evacuating sectors” said the mayor of Saumos to BFMTV on Tuesday morning.

Local authorities for the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and Gironde département released the update below on Tuesday morning, stating that the fire was continuing to burn:

An investigation was also opened to determine the origin of the new flames, as gendarmes in Gironde consider the possibility it was caused by arson.

The wildfires broke out as several towns across south west France recorded record high temperatures for the month of September, with heat brought on by a post-tropical cyclone off the coast of Portugal. On Monday, Bordeaux recorded 37.5C – a peak for September that has not been seen since 1987.

Temperatures were expected to remain around 30C in the Bordeaux area on Tuesday, though the heat was expected to begin dissipating mid-week as rain and storms roll in across the region.

READ MORE: September temperature records broken in France amid new heatwave

Throughout the dry summer – France’s second hottest on record – the south west was affected by major fires that burned over 30,000 hectares in La Teste-de-Buch and Landiras.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

France records 10,000 excess deaths in second hottest summer on record

After the second hottest summer ever recorded in France - after 2003 - French health authorities have released data on excess deaths recorded over the season.

France records 10,000 excess deaths in second hottest summer on record

In a press release published by Santé publique France on Monday evening, the health authority noted that “multiple climatic phenomena” occurred during the summer, calling it the “hottest since 1900” with a “significant health impact.”

The data covers June to September and lists 10,420 excess deaths – that is deaths in excess of the average for the summer season.

Of those 2,816 deaths occurred during the three periods when the country was officially on heatwave alert – a 16.7 percent increase when compared to non-heatwave periods during the summer.

Experts also believe that many of the remaining 7,604 excess deaths were heat related, even if they occurred during periods when there was no heatwave warning in place.

“A part of this excess of summer mortality is probably due to the population being exposed to strong heat, even if temperatures did not reach the thresholds for heatwave alerts,” noted the report.

As expected, the worst affected were the elderly. Of the 2,816 excess deaths recorded during the three heatwave episodes this summer, 2,272 were among people aged 75 and over, i.e. nearly 80 percent of excess deaths during heatwaves.

However, all age groups were represented, as shown in the figures below. Most of the deaths across age groups occurred during the second heatwave, which was the “most intense” in terms of heat.

The impact of the pandemic

The pandemic also likely played a role in heat-related deaths. Specifically, 894 Covid-19 related deaths were recorded in hospitals and medical establishments during the heatwave episodes.

The head of Santé publique France’s “Quality of Living and Population Health” unit, Guillaume Boulanger, explained in a press conference that “Covid-19 could have increased vulnerability to heat for some people, and exposure to the heat may have worsened the condition of some patients affected by the virus.”

The excess mortality in relation to high temperatures is France’s “highest since 2003,” a year where a three-week heatwave resulted in over 15,000 deaths.

It was this heatwave, and the shock that so many elderly people were found dead in their own homes, that led to cities creating the heatwave plans that are in use today.

In addition to excess mortality, there was also a rise in non-fatal health complications across the country. Throughout the entire summer, more than 17,000 emergency room visits and 3,000 SOS Médecins consultations were recorded for hyperthermia, dehydration and hyponametria (salt deficiency resulting from dehydration).

Additionally, during heatwave periods, the number of emergency room visits and SOS Médecins consultations were two to three times higher than outside of heatwave periods.

The three heatwaves were described in the report as “intense and noteworthy.” The first occurred in June, at an unusually early time for the summer season, the second in July, which was widespread geographically and impacted over two-thirds of French population, and the third occurred in August.  

Geography

In terms of the parts of France that were most impacted, four regions – mostly concentrated in France’s south – stand out with particularly high levels of excess mortality.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Nouvelle Aquitaine, Occitanie, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur recorded the majority of the country’s excess national deaths during the heatwaves.

However, when looking at the deaths in proportion to the number of inhabitants, Brittany, a region typically known for cooler summer temperatures, saw a high proportion. The Paris region and Grand Est also saw higher per-population proportions of excess deaths.

The report joins other literature on the topic of excess deaths in Europe as a result of climatic events. The European Environment Agency recently released a study showing that without adaptation measures, if global warming were to reach 3C by 2100, “90,000 Europeans could die from heatwaves each year.”

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