Firefighters tackle France’s first major forest blaze of 2023

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France’s government sounded the alarm about the growing risk of forest fires because of climate change as hundreds of firefighters in the country’s parched south wrestled with their biggest blaze so far this year.

The fire, which erupted on Sunday, burned on more than 2,500 acres (1,000 hectares) of woods and scrubland along the Mediterranean coast and spread across the border into north-eastern Spain.

On a visit to the area on Monday, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said: “The fire season is starting early because of climate warming.”

France Forest Fire
Firefighters tackle the flames near Cerbere in southern France, near the border with Spain (Pierre Petit/SDIS66/AP)

However, major wildfires in Europe are now starting earlier, becoming more frequent and harder to stop, and doing more damage.

Scientists say they are likely to get worse as climate change intensifies, and the Mediterranean region is warming faster than the global average.

Mr Darmanin said: “We’re in April. We have already seen the start of several important fires, notably in the south of France.”

Droughts that hit France last year have been compounded by shortages of rain this past winter, leaving already tinder-dry woodlands at even greater risk.

French authorities are urging home-owners to chop back and thin out trees and scrubland around their properties and appealing for people to take extra care not to discard cigarettes or otherwise start fires inadvertently.

France Forest Fire
A plane drops water on the forest fire near Cerbere in southern France (Bouchaib Yacine/SDIS66/AP)

French rescue services spokesman Arnaud Wilm told broadcaster FranceInfo on Monday morning that the blaze is being successfully contained and that its biggest flames have been extinguished but fire crews are still working to completely stop its spread and put it out.

On the Spanish side, firefighters said the flames that spread close to the town of Portbou are still active but have been stabilised and are no longer spreading.

They said two border roads remain closed to traffic and the train service linking Portbou to Cerbere has been halted.

Spanish national television said some 50 people were temporarily evacuated from their homes, while around 20 French people unable to cross the border were given accommodation in the town overnight.

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