France faces 'apocalypse of heat' in south-west regions as forest fires spread

Heatwave expected to reach its peak on Monday

Firefighters work to contain a tactical fire in Louchats as fires spread in the Gironde region of France on Sunday. Reuters
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France was bracing on Monday for the peak of a heatwave gripping the country, with sweltering temperatures expected from the Mediterranean as far up as Brittany in the north-west.

Forecasters have put 15 departments across the country on the highest state of alert for extreme temperatures, including Gironde in the south-west where forest fires have already wrought havoc.

In the Landes forest, in the south-west Aquitaine region, temperatures “will be above 42ºC”, said forecaster Olivier Proust.

Brittany, which until recently had escaped the worst of the heat, could register temperatures as high as 40°C, said experts, which would be a record for the region.

Scientists say the increasing number of extreme weather events is a direct consequence of global warming, as greenhouse gases increase their intensity, length and frequency.

The intense heatwave has already caused several forest fires in France and elsewhere, and some farmers have taken to working at night to reduce the risk of a spark from their harvesting equipment starting a fire that destroys their crops.

The fires in Gironde, which have been raging since Tuesday, had destroyed 13,000 hectares by Sunday night, driven by high winds.

The blaze in the Teste-de-Buch forest in Gironde had reached the beach and was moving south, said the local prefecture. Video from the scene showed a massive fire at La Lagune, near the famous Dune of Pilat — Europe's tallest sand dune.

France's Interior Ministry said it was sending three more firefighting aircraft to reinforce the six already operating in the region, as well as 200 more firefighters and more equipment.

“In certain zones in the south-west, it will be an apocalypse of heat,” forecaster Francois Gourand of Meteo-France told AFP.

Temperatures across France are expected to be cross 30°C, but rise to between 38°C and 40°C in the western half of the country.

Officials in several regions have also issued pollution alerts because of the high concentrations of ozone.

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The heatwave is gripping much of western Europe, with high temperatures and forest fires in Spain and Portugal.

Britain's Met Office issued its first-ever “red” warning for extreme heat that it said posed a “risk to life”.

Updated: July 18, 2022, 8:17 AM