UPDATED: France battles ‘monster’ wildfire as heatwaves scorch Europe

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HOSTENS, France, Aug 11 (Reuters) – A “monster” wildfire raged for a third day near France’s wine-growing heartland of Bordeaux on Thursday, with no let-up in blistering temperatures likely before the weekend.

More than 1,000 firefighters backed by water-bombing aircraft battled to contain the blaze in the southwestern Gironde region that has forced thousands of people from their homes and scorched 6,800 hectares of forest.

“It’s an ogre, it’s a monster,” Gregory Allione from the French firefighters body FNSPF told RTL radio.

Wildfires have broken out across Europe this summer as successive heatwaves bake the continent, bring record temperatures and renew focus on climate change risks to industry and livelihoods.

In Spain firefighters were tackling blazes across six regions after lightning storms sparked new blazes. In Portugal emergency services struggled to beat back a forest fire that broke out six days ago.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth visited the Gironde.

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

Firefighters said they had managed to save the village of Belin-Beliet, transformed into a ghost village after police told residents to evacuate as the flames approached.

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 said after watching many of her neighbours leave their homes overnight.

HEATWAVES, FLOODS, MELTING GLACIERS

Heatwaves, floods and crumbling glaciers have heightened concerns over climate change and the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather across the globe.

The head of the European Space Agency, Josef Aschbacher, said successive heatwaves, shrinking rivers and rising land temperatures as measured from space left no doubt about the toll on agriculture and other industries from climate change.

“It’s pretty bad. We have seen extremes that have not been observed before,” Aschbacher told Reuters. read more

ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-3 satellite series has measured “extreme” land surface temperatures of more than 45C in Britain, 50C in France and 60C in Spain in recent weeks.

Britain’s Met Office on Thursday issued a four-day “extreme heat” warning for parts of England and Wales.

In Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters spent a sixth day fighting a wildfire in the central Covilha region that has burned 10,500 hectares, including parts of the Serra da Estrela national park.

In Spain, electrical storms triggered wildfires in half a dozen regions. Hundreds of people were evacuated from the path of one blaze in the province of Caceres.

More than 57,200 hectares have gone up in flames so far in France this year, nearly six times the full-year average for 2006-2021, data from the European Forest Fire Information System shows.

French authorities said temperatures in the Gironde region would reach 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) on Thursday and stay high until Saturday.

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

The Gironde was hit by big wildfires in July which destroyed more than 20,000 hectares of forest and temporarily forced almost 40,000 people from their homes.

Hostens mayor Jean-Louis Dartiailh described the past weeks as a disaster.

“The area is totally disfigured. We’re heartbroken, we’re exhausted,” he told Radio Classique. “(This fire) is the final straw.

Reporting by Manuel Ausloos and Stephane Mahe in Hostens, Layli Foroudi in Paris, Christina Thykjaer in Madrid and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Jason Neely and Andrew Heavens

A handout photo made available by the communication department of the Gironde Firebrigade SDIS33 shows firemen fighting a forest fire in Belin-Beliet, in the Gironde region of southwestern France. EPA-EFE/SDIS 33 HANDOUT

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