Firefighters from across Europe came to France’s rescue on Friday to battle a massive wildfire, while fire also raged in Portugal and parts of England faced a severe drought, as successive heatwaves renewed the focus on climate change risks.
Much of Europe has faced weeks of baking temperatures that have also depleted water levels of the Rhine River in Germany and seen the source of Britain’s River Thames dry up further downstream than in previous years.
High temperatures and a worsening drought brought a high risk of new fires breaking out in Gironde, in southwestern France, local officials said, even after an overnight reprieve held in check the wildfire that has been burning for days, scorched thousands of hectares and displaced 10,000 people.
Firefighters from Germany, Romania, Greece and beyond were on the ground to help France battle the fire in the region – home to Bordeaux wine – as well as on other fronts, including in Brittany in the northwest.
“It doesn’t matter the country, we are firefighters and we are there to help,” said chief Romanian firefighter Cristian Buhaianu, in Gironde.
French commandant Stephanie Martin welcomed their support in an area that already battled a massive fire for weeks last month. “Our firefighters are tired after one month of fighting. It is really good support for us, so we can also focus on the other operation,” she said.
But while an expected end of France’s third heatwave on Sunday could bring some relief, the fire has already left much destruction in its wake, including over 7,400 hectares (18,286 acres) of forest burnt to the ground – equivalent to the size of a major French city such as Nice.
What firefighters called a “monster fire” also destroyed houses, including the ancestral home of the family of 19-year old student Juliette Pilain, from Belin-Beliet, in the heart of Gironde.
“It is complicated to process this news. It’s a house that’s been in the family for years, it’s especially painful for my grandparents,” Pilain told Reuters.
“We had all the furniture of my great-grandparents there, books and encyclopaedia belonging to my great grandmother … we cried a lot but then thought it is just material damage and we are all still here.”