A wildfire raged for a third day in southwestern France on Thursday, ravaging forests and forcing 10,000 people to flee their homes.
With scorching temperatures not expected to subside until the weekend, firefighters, backed by water-bombing planes, were battling on many fronts, saying the massive blaze could change direction at any moment.
“It’s a cannibal, it’s a monster,” Gregory Allion of the French FNSPF fire department told RTL radio.
Forest fires have broken out across Europe this summer as another heat wave warms the continent and renews attention to the risks of climate change to industry and livelihoods.
Valentina Dupy took a picture of her house with her phone before evacuating Belin-Beliette, in the center of the Gironde region, “just in case”.
“It was like the apocalypse. Smoke is everywhere and planes are throwing orange powder into the fire.”
Firefighters said they managed to save her village, which had been turned into a ghost town after police ordered residents to evacuate as the flames approached.
But the flames reached the outskirts, leaving behind destroyed houses and burnt tractors.
“We were lucky. Our houses were saved. But you see a disaster there. Some houses could not be saved,” said a resident of Gaetano, pointing to the burned houses.
“WE ARE HEARTBROKEN”
Support was on the way from across Europe, with 361 firefighters, as well as trucks and bombing planes, expected to support the 1,100 French firefighters already on the ground.
“We’re still in the phase of (trying to) contain the fire, get it where we want it, where there’s less vegetation, where our vehicles can be best placed so that we can eventually fix it, control it and put it out,” – said Mathieu Jamain, the press secretary of the Gironde fire department.
More than 60,000 hectares (230 square miles) have burned in France this year, six times the annual average for the entire period 2006-2021, according to data from the European Forest Fire Information System.
French authorities said temperatures in the Gironde region would reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and remain high until Saturday.
Firefighters warned of an “explosive cocktail” of weather conditions, with wind and tinder fueling the flames.
Gironde was hit by massive wildfires in July that destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced nearly 40,000 people from their homes.
The mayor of Hastens, Jean-Louis Dartilla, called the past weeks a disaster.
“The square is completely disfigured. We are heartbroken, we are exhausted,” he told Radio Classique. “(This fire) was the last straw.”