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New forest fires are feared as flames rage in France

#forest #fires #feared #flames #rage #France

French officials warned on Thursday that flare-ups could mean a massive wildfire spreading further in the country’s parched south-west, where fresh blazes have already blackened swaths of land this week.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will meet with authorities battling the Landiras fire south of Bordeaux and further reinforcements are expected for the 1,100 firefighters on the ground, the Gironde department prefecture said.

“Conditions are particularly difficult: vegetation and soil are exceptionally dry,” it said in a statement, warning that extreme dry heat is likely during the weekend.

“There is a very serious risk of new outbreaks,” it said.

Temperatures in the region could top 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Thursday, weather forecasters predicted.

The wildfire first broke out a month ago in July – the driest month in France since 1961 – destroyed 14,000 hectares and forced thousands of people to evacuate before it could be contained.

But it continued to smolder in the tinder-dry pine forests and peaty soils, and officials suspect arson may have played a role in the latest flare-up, which has burned 6,800 hectares (17,000 acres) since Tuesday.

“We fought all night to stop the spread of the fire, particularly to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde Fire and Rescue Service told journalists in nearby Hostens.

Since Tuesday, 17 homes have been destroyed or damaged and nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated, but no further orders to leave the area are expected “for now,” Mendousse said.

Biting smoke has spread across a huge stretch of the Atlantic seaboard and its beaches, which draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “urging” people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closure of the A63 motorway, a main artery towards Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

France has been hit this summer by a record drought that has put restrictions on water use across the country, as well as a series of heatwaves that many experts say are being caused by climate change.

Eight major wildfires are currently raging in several parts of the country and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who is also set to meet Gironde officials on Thursday, said Sweden and Italy would send fire-fighting planes to help.

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