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European firefighters join battle to stop French wildfires

Firefighters tackling a wildfire near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, south-western France (SDIS 33 via AP)
Firefighters tackling a wildfire near Saint-Magne, south of Bordeaux, south-western France (SDIS 33 via AP)

Firefighters from across Europe started arriving in France on Friday to help battle several wildfires, including a giant blaze ravaging pine forests in the south-west of the country.

A series of heat waves have compounded a critical drought in much of Europe to create prime wildfire conditions.

Portugal had pine forests burning for a seventh day on Friday while Britain sweated through another day of unusually warm weather.

The firefighters’ brigade from the Gironde region said the spread of the forest fire was limited overnight due to little wind but conditions for containing the blaze remained “unfavourable” due to hot, dry weather.

The fire in the Gironde region and neighbouring Landes has burned more than 74 square kilometres (29 square miles) since Tuesday and led to the evacuation of at least 10,000 people.

More than 360 firefighters and 100 specialised land vehicles were sent from Germany, Romania, Poland and Austria. They are joining over 1,000 French firefighters already on site. Greece sent two specialised Canadair aircraft.

Sweden deployed two firefighting Air Tractor planes to help battle separate wildfires in the Brittany region, in western France.

More than 600 square kilometres (232 square miles) of forest land has burned since the start of the year in France, more than any other year in the past decade, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

In Portugal, more than 1,600 firefighters, 500 vehicles and 17 aircraft fought the week-old wildfire that has charred around 10 square kilometres (four square miles).

Much of the burned land is the Serra da Estrela National Park, a protected nature area and Unesco World Heritage Site that is thinly populated.

The burning areas are hard for firefighters on the ground to reach due to high peaks and deep ravines, but two of the country’s three Canadair water-dumping aircraft have been unavailable on some recent days for mechanical reasons.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said only one water-dropping plane from Spain was available to help out because other Spanish planes were deployed to France under the European Union’s mutual aid system.

“Contrary to how things used to be when wildfires were mostly in southern Europe, unfortunately, they are now more widespread,” Mr Costa said, describing the EU’s emergency cooperation mechanism as fully stretched.