As drought conditions and the fourth heat wave since June hit much of the country, the French government is calling on companies to make volunteer firefighters available throughout August to fight fires.
“We are reaching the point of exhaustion for the firefighters,” French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to the fire department in Aveyron, southern France.
According to the latest data from the French Fire Fighter Service, France has more than 250,000 firefighters and 79% of them are volunteers. Currently 10,000 firefighters are mobilized in the fight against wildfires across France, according to Darmanin.
The Gironde fire, which started on Tuesday, has prompted the evacuation of 10,000 residents, said Martin Gusperau, deputy commissioner for defense and security in Nouvelle-Aquitaine prefecture. He said that 6,000 hectares of forest had been destroyed earlier.
The main A63 highway between Bordeaux and Bayonne will be “closed both ways,” Gironde said The prefecture said Wednesday. “The fire is very intense and has spread to the Department of Landes.”
The blaze destroyed 16 houses but no injuries were reported, a press release said.
“We are entering a tough day with high risks. The weather is extremely adverse at this time,” officials said.
French officials said at least three other fires were being fought in the south of the country.
French Prime Minister Élisabeth Bourne will visit the Gironde on Thursday with Darmanin, Bourne announced on social media.
Temperatures are expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in this part of the country on Thursday and Friday, according to a forecast published Wednesday by the country’s weather service, Meteo France.
The affected area is about the size of India and covers the three largest US states — Alaska, Texas and California — combined.
And New satellite imagery from the EU’s climate monitoring agency Copernicus reveals a cloudless view of western Europe as it experiences another intense heatwave.
In the southern UK and the Netherlands, the mercury once again rose above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) while France and Spain faced temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
According to Copernicus, “This new heat wave is associated with a strong high-pressure figure, which causes cloudiness over much of Western Europe.”
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures between August 9 and 14 could again exceed 44°C (111.2°F) in Spain, 40°C (104°F) in France, 35°C (95°F) in the south, and 30°C (95°F) in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. C (86 Fahrenheit),” said Copernicus.
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said: “With the exception of a few slightly cooler days in between, this heat wave is forecast to last for the next 10 days.”
High temperature, low rainfall
According to Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, the extreme temperatures Europe is experiencing is down to a persistent build-up of high pressure and strong sunshine.
Western Europe in particular has been “struggling since the beginning of June,” he told CNN on Wednesday.
“Then you combine that with the lack of rain – and parts of Europe have had below-average rain for 15 or 16 months now – there’s been a long period of dry weather and so rivers and reservoirs are very low, very low levels.”
Bentley continued: “Recent heat waves have exacerbated the problem because it further evaporates any moisture from the ground, from rivers, from reservoirs. This has left large areas of Europe in drought conditions.”
These dry conditions and persistent temperatures have led to wildfires, which are “not uncommon” in Europe, Bentley said. But, “the season started much earlier, and it’s more persistent and more widespread than we usually see,” he said.
The effects of extreme heat events and drought are already being felt, for example in agricultural and farming communities.
“This means we’re going to see a sharp drop in crop yields throughout the summer, and that’s going to affect food prices — not just across Europe, but around the world. The problems that are happening in Ukraine because of the Russian invasion — that’s exacerbating the whole issue around food prices.”
The latest forecast from the UK’s Center for Environment and Hydrology suggests the situation is unlikely to change soon, Bentley said. An analysis of its projections suggests temperatures will remain above average over the next two months, with problems exacerbated by below-average rainfall
CNN’s Judson Jones, Xiaofei Xu and Renée Bertini contributed to this report.