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France forced to call in firefighters from other countries as 'monster' blaze spreads

The photo shows a wildfire in the forest near Belin-Beliet (Gironde), France, on August 11, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of firefighters from across Europe have headed to the Gironde region of southwestern France to battle a huge wildfire that has been burning for more than a month.

More than 350 firefighters from Germany, Poland, Romania and Italy were sent to Gironde, near Bordeaux, on Saturday, after France was forced to call in reinforcements to help tackle the blaze.

They are expected to back up more than 1,000 French firefighters who are already working on the blaze but have been unable to put it out due to a record-breaking European heatwave and drought that has left pine forests tinder-dry.

Water-bombing planes are also being sent from Greece and Sweden to help extinguish the flames.

“We are still in the phase of (trying to) confine the fire, direct it where we want it, where there is less vegetation, where our vehicles can best position themselves ... so we can eventually fix it, control it and extinguish it,” said Matthieu Jomain, a spokesperson for the Gironde firefighters.

More than 60,000 hectares (230 square miles) have gone up in flames so far in France this year, 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 have 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 that 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.”

France, like the rest of Europe, has been struggling this summer with successive heatwaves and its worst drought on record. Dozens of wildfires are ablaze across the country, including at least eight major ones.

The Gironde wildfire is one of many that have broken out across Europe this summer, triggered by heatwaves that have baked the continent and brought record temperatures.

Meanwhile, fires are also burning once again in Portugal, while a mountain pass that has been covered in ice for at least 2,000 years in Switzerland is set to be ice-free by the end of the week.

In Germany, thousands of fish have been washing up dead on the banks of the Oder River because low water levels have caused chemicals dumped into the channel to become so concentrated that the animals are being poisoned.

The United Nations has in recent weeks called for "urgent action" by all countries to deal with drought and desertification to prevent a "human disaster".

According to experts, the frequency, increase, and prolongation of heat waves, which are exacerbated by the emission of greenhouse gases, show the obvious consequences of climate change and global warming.

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