French PM sounds climate crisis alarm as ‘ogre-like’ wildfire rages | France

The French prime minister has said France must fight “more than ever” against climate breakdown but also learn to adapt to it, as she met authorities battling a huge wildfire that continued to burn through south-western pine forests and has forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people.

As more than 1,000 firefighters battled the rampant Landiras fire south of Bordeaux, with hundreds of reinforcements expected, Élisabeth Borne said: “We must continue more than ever to fight against climate breakdown.” She added that from September, she would oversee a form of “environmental planning” to ensure France adapts to new climate situations, as well as planting new forests.

Élisabeth Borne meets firefighters near the site of a wildfire in Hostens on Thursday.
Élisabeth Borne meets firefighters near the site of a wildfire in Hostens on Thursday. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

Local authorities said the massive blaze, which reignited on Tuesday, had destroyed more than 6,800 hectares (16,800 acres) of woodland in the Gironde area and the neighbouring Landes. Gironde had already seen about 15,000 hectares of pine forest destroyed in July before the same fire sparked up again this week and tore through woodland.

Firefighters likened the blaze to an entity with a life of its own. “It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,” Gregory Allione, from the French firefighters body FNSPF, told RTL radio.

Authorities warned of an “explosive cocktail” of weather conditions, with wind and the tinder-box dryness helping fan the flames.

“Conditions are particularly difficult: the vegetation and soil are exceptionally dry,” the local prefect’s office said in a statement, warning that extreme dry heat was likely until at least Sunday. “There is a very serious risk of new outbreaks.”

Temperatures in the region could top 40C on Thursday, weather forecasters predicted.

Officials warn the wildfire could spread across the country’s parched south-west, where blazes have burned swathes of land this week.
Officials warn the wildfire could spread across the country’s parched south-west, where blazes have burned swathes of land this week. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

Overnight, the darkened skies had glowed orange above the burning forests, leaving local residents to face another anxiety-wracked night as the fire advanced.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic … And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides – nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told Agence France-Presse.

Firefighters work overnight at the site of the blaze.
Firefighters work overnight at the site of the blaze. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

Firefighters said they had managed to save the village of Belin-Béliet, which was transformed into a ghost village after police told residents to evacuate as the flames approached. “We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Béliet,” Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service said.

In nearby Hostens, Allisson Fayol and her father stayed in their home, their bags packed in case they needed to make a hasty departure.

“There is still a lot of smoke but for now it’s not coming this way,” Fayol told Reuters, after watching many of her neighbours leave their homes overnight.

Near to the blaze, the village of Belin-Béliet has become a ghost town after police evacuated residents.
Near to the blaze, the village of Belin-Béliet has become a ghost town after police evacuated residents. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

The Landiras blaze originally erupted in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – destroying a swathe of forest and forcing thousands of people to evacuate before it was contained. But local authorities said it had never really gone out but had continued to smoulder in the tinder-dry pine forests, where it was contained deep within the peaty soil, before reigniting this week.

Due to the fire’s intensity, there are suspicions of ‘criminal intervention’, says Borne.
Due to the fire’s intensity, there are suspicions of ‘criminal intervention’, says Borne. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

Asked if arson might have caused the blaze to reignite this week, Borne said that “given the brutality” of the fire, there could be “suspicions about criminal intervention”, but she did not give details.

From his holiday residence on the Mediterranean coast, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said of the firefighters: “These soldiers of fire are our heroes.” He thanked Germany, Greece, Poland, Romania and Austria for coming to France’s help. The government said Sweden and Italy were also sending fire-fighting aircraft to help.

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