France is suffocating under the heatwave, putting firefighters on alert


Children refreshed in a fountain in Lyon

Intense heat spread across much of France on Friday ahead of a heavy holiday weekend, prompting officials to warn of forest fire hazards in unusually dry and windy conditions.

About a third of the country’s 101 departments were on high alert, with Paris expected to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the shade after several cities hit record highs on Thursday.

Authorities in the capital imposed traffic restrictions to limit ozone pollution as tens of thousands of Parisians prepared to flee to colder climates, according to the national traffic monitoring agency.

“The heat wave forces the State to be vigilant, and everyone to be careful,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said during a visit to the firefighters in Bourg-en-Bresse, in the south-east of France.

Earlier on Friday, a dramatic forest fire in the middle of the seaside resort of Anglet on the Atlantic coast was brought under control after destroying nearly a dozen homes and forcing around 100 people to evacuate.

The fire broke out Thursday evening in the Chiberta Forest Park in Anglet, southwestern France, whose beaches just north of Biarritz attract surfers from around the world.

It was the last of several to erupt in southern and central France this week, triggering the annual fire season which officials say could be made worse by drought and dry heat.

  • French Prime Minister Jean Castex, center, warned of the risks of heat when visiting a retirement home

  • A dead fish in the dry Doubs in eastern France

    A dead fish in the dry Doubs in eastern France

“Ninety percent of these fires are caused by humans,” Environment Minister Barbara Pompili told BFM television, asking people to use “common sense”.

Officials have also urged families and neighbors to watch the elderly, and nursing homes are on high alert as air conditioners are discouraged for fear of fostering coronavirus contagions.

An increase in COVID-19 cases has prompted officials to tighten face mask requirements in several cities this week, with many making them mandatory outdoors despite the heat.

Météo France’s meteorological agency said the storms could bring relief on Friday evening in central France. Nighttime temperatures elsewhere are likely to remain high, dropping to just 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) in cities like Lyon or Grenoble.

Last year was the hottest on record in France, and Météo France warned that global warming could double the number of heat waves by 2050.

A forest fire in France consumes homes and forces evacuations

© 2020 AFP

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