(Corrects date in date line)
By Stéphane Mahé and Manuel Ausloos
SAINT-MAGNE, France (Reuters) – Firefighters from across Europe came to the rescue of France on Friday to battle a huge forest fire, while fire also raged in Portugal and parts of the England faces a severe drought as successive heat waves have renewed attention on the risks of climate change.
Much of Europe faced weeks of baking temperatures that also depleted water levels in the Rhine in Germany and saw the source of Britain’s Thames dry up further downstream than in previous years.
High temperatures and worsening drought have led to a high risk of further fires in Gironde, southwestern France, local officials said, even after an overnight reprieve brought the burning wildfire under control for days, has burned thousands of hectares and displaced 10,000 people. people.
Firefighters from Germany, Romania, Greece and elsewhere were on the ground to help France tackle the blaze in the region – home to Bordeaux wine – as well as on other fronts, including in Brittany in the northwest.
“No matter the country, we are firefighters and we are here to help,” said Romanian fire chief Cristian Buhaianu, in Gironde.
French commander Stephanie Martin hailed their support in an area that already battled a massive fire for weeks last month. “Our firefighters are tired after a month of fighting. It’s very good support for us, so we can focus on the other operation as well,” she said.
But while an expected end to France’s third heatwave on Sunday could bring some relief, the blaze has already left plenty of destruction in its wake, including more than 7,400 hectares (18,286 acres) of scorched forest in the ground – the equivalent of the size of a large French city like Nice.
What firefighters described as a “monster fire” also destroyed houses, including the ancestral home of the family of 19-year-old student Juliette Pilain, from Belin-Beliet, in the heart of Gironde.
“It’s complicated to process this news. It’s a house that’s been in the family for years, it’s particularly distressing for my grandparents,” Pilain told Reuters.
“We had all my great-grandparents’ furniture there, books and an encyclopedia belonging to my great-grandmother…we cried a lot but then we thought it was just property damage and we’re all still here.”
FIRES IN PORTUGAL, DROUGHT IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
In central Portugal, a massive wildfire raged into its seventh day, with 1,600 firefighters backed by 13 water bomber planes, including one sent from Spain, battling the blaze which destroyed around 15% of the Serra da Estrela National Park.
After starting on Saturday in the Covilha region, the fire spread to several neighboring municipalities, burning around 15,000 hectares in total.
Meanwhile, water levels on the Rhine in Germany have fallen again, with some ships unable to navigate, shipping operators and brokers said.
Further north in Britain, the heat wave was also hitting hard, with the government officially declaring parts of southern, central and eastern England drought-prone after a long spell of hot, dry weather.
England had its driest July since 1935, with just 35% of the month’s average rainfall, and parts of England and Wales were now in the midst of an ‘extreme heat’ alert of four days.
“All the water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are always safe, and we have made it clear that it is their duty to maintain these supplies,” Water Minister Steve Double said. following a meeting of the National Drought Group.
Businesses will now start adopting pre-agreed drought plans to help protect supplies, and the government has said members of the public and businesses in drought-affected areas are urged to use water wisely .
Earlier on Friday, Yorkshire Water announced a garden hose ban would begin on August 26, prohibiting customers from using hoses to water gardens, wash cars or fill paddling pools.
Also everywhere in France there are restrictions on the use of water and the water police have imposed fines. Local media reported that outdoor hot tubs had been vandalized in the tourist region of Vosges, as some tensions over the water mounted.
(Reporting by Farouq Suleiman and Sachin Ravikumar, Myriam Rivet, Manuel Ausloos, Stephane Mahe, Layly Foroudi, Geert de Clercq, Farouq Suleiman, Andrei Khalip and Michael Hogan; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)