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Further spread of wildfire feared in southwestern France

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French officials warned Thursday that flare-ups could spark a massive wildfire that would spread further into the parched southwest of the country, where new fires this week have already led to blackening parts of the country.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will meet with authorities fighting the Landiras fire south of Bordeaux, and further reinforcements are expected for the 1,100 firefighters on the scene, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

“Conditions are particularly difficult: vegetation and soil are exceptionally dry,” it said in a statement, warning that extreme dry heat is likely to be over the weekend.

“There is a very serious risk of new outbreaks,” he said.

Temperatures in the region could rise above 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday, weather forecasters predicted.

The bushfire first broke out a month ago in July – the driest month in France since 1961 – destroying 14,000 hectares and forcing thousands of people to evacuate before it was contained.

But it continued to smolder in the tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil, and officials suspect arson may have played a role in the latest flare-up, which has burned 6,800 hectares (17,000 acres) since Tuesday.

“We fought all night to prevent the fire from spreading, in particular to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde Fire and Rescue Service told journalists in nearby Hostens.

Seventeen homes have been destroyed or damaged since Tuesday and nearly 10,000 people have been evacuated, but “no more orders are expected for the time being to leave the area,” Mendousse said.

Acrid smoke has spread across a huge swath of the Atlantic coast and beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists every summer, with the regional health agency ARS “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closure of the A63 motorway, a major artery to Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

France has been ravaged this summer by a record drought that has led to restrictions on water use across the country, as well as a series of heatwaves that many experts believe are caused by climate change.

Eight major wildfires are currently raging in different parts of the country, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who will also meet Gironde officials on Thursday, said Sweden and Italy sent fire-fighting planes to help.

(AFP)

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